Hybrids & Electrics

A Former Tesla Employee Is Helping to Keep This Rare Tesla Model on the Road

The first-generation Tesla Roadster was an electric vehicle ahead of its time. From 2008 to 2012, only 2,500 were produced and sold in 30 countries. Today, it’s estimated that only about 1,500 Roadsters are still on the roads in the U.S. Given how small the Roadster’s numbers are, you’d think Tesla could easily service them. Unfortunately, the owners of these cars are out of luck. Tesla service centers are overloaded with newer Teslas, like the Model S and the Model X. So who fixes Roadsters if Tesla can’t?

The Tesla Roadster ‘Whisperer’

If you live in the Pacific Northwest and you need work done on your Tesla Roadster, you can call Carl. Chances are you already know him if you own one in that region. Carl Medlock is uniquely qualified to fix this car, as Road and Track reports. As one of Tesla’s first hires outside of California, he worked there from 2009 to 2013 starting as a service manager and advancing to territory manager. 

Medlock has 30 years of experience repairing cars and training auto technicians. He’s also worked as a parts and service director for both Land Rover Jaguar and Ford Lincoln Mercury. Due to his vast knowledge and experience, Medlock is known among his customers as the “Tesla Roadster Whisperer.” Since 2014, he’s operated Medlock & Sons, a low-profile EV garage in Seattle. His sons, Randy and Austin work there with him. (Austin formerly worked at Tesla, too. )

A rare Tesla that’s earned loyalty

Despite Tesla’s apparent desertion of the Roadster, owners treasure the car. When it was introduced in 2008, it was the first mass-produced street-legal battery electric vehicle. Tesla designed a proprietary, patented powertrain for this car. It also had LED lighting and custom-tuned suspension.

In addition to its innovation, the Roadster also offered a great balance between performance and practicality. This Tesla car body, based on the Lotus Elise, is the first hint that this is a hot little sports car. It also happens to make 248 hp and can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.9 seconds.

The Roadster Sport offered in 2010 does it in 3.7 seconds. The car’s maximum torque of 200 lb-ft is immediately available with no lag. It’s practical as it’s one of the first EVs with a range over 200 miles on one charge of its plug-in battery. The EPA rated the early production Roadsters as having a range of 231 miles city, 224 miles highway, and 227 miles combined.

Beyond its EV sensibility and its fun-to-drive factor, there’s the Roadster’s nerd appeal. Owners love its technology. They also like Tesla Motors’ innovation, which created a huge shift in public opinion in favor of electric motors. The carmaker also changed the ways cars were manufactured and marketed. Tesla’s forward-looking approach convinced the original Roadster owners to put down a significant cash deposit two years ahead of actual production and delivery.

Medlock prioritizes the Roadster when Tesla can’t

Roadster owners in the Pacific Northwest and beyond are understandably irritated about being last in line at Tesla service centers. An extreme example of this occurred when one owner’s Roadster ended up in Tesla’s shop for over a year and a half. It took the automaker that long to find a rare electrical component for the car.

Tesla is no longer the small upstart automaker that made the Roadster back in 2008. To get an idea of just how much Tesla has grown, you can look at its production and delivery numbers just for the second quarter of 2019. The automaker produced over 87,000 cars and delivered 95,200. In one quarter, Tesla has delivered 38 times more cars than it did in the entire four years of delivering the Roadster. It’s no wonder there’s a long wait for service.

Medlock has thrown these Roadster owners a lifeline. Some of them remember him providing excellent customer service at the Seattle Tesla shop in the early days. They sought him out when he opened his garage after Tesla let him go. Other customers found him by word of mouth, coming from as far as Southern California and Florida. Unsurprisingly, business is good enough that Medlock doesn’t need to advertise.

He truly comes across as an old-school mechanic who happens to work with new technology. His garage and the surrounding property are filled with Roadster parts. Sometimes he has new parts machined from old worn parts since Tesla offers no aftermarket components. Because he knows exactly how the Roadster is made, Medlock needs no diagnostic software to tell him what’s wrong with any particular car. 

Having worked with EVs for a relatively long time in the short history of this technology, Medlock points out that a garage that repairs EVs is a good business model. But he also shares the insight that automakers make no profits in servicing EVs. This, in part, could be another reason why Tesla has neglected Roadster customers: The money simply isn’t there.

Medlock & Sons can repair any EV, including electric motorcycles and internal combustion engine cars that have been converted to electric. But the garage will always put first-generation Roadsters first. Even if Tesla has moved on to the next-gen Roadster, Medlock hasn’t. He sold these cars to their owners, and he still feels responsible for them.