Ben DiPietro, The Wall Street Journal’s Risk & Compliance Journal, November 30, 2015

The crisis this week deals with Tesla Motor’s decision to recall all Model S cars—about 90,000 of them—because of a problem reported with a seat belt in one of the vehicles.

The company said even though the car in question wasn’t involved in an accident, and no one was hurt—and the problem wasn’t found on 3,000 other vehicles it inspected—it decided to proceed with a full recall nonetheless. “We have decided to conduct a voluntary recall as a proactive and precautionary measure to inspect all front Model S seat belts and make absolutely sure that they are properly connected,” the company said in a letter sent to every Model S owner.

Tesla’s stock price dropped following the recall announcement, which comes a few weeks after shares slid following a Consumer Reports story calling into question the reliability of the Model S.

Using only the public statements made by the company, or the comments it sent to owners, we asked the experts to evaluate whether the company is doing the right thing with a total recall, or overreacting to a minor problem in one vehicle. Is there more to the company’s response than just dealing with a seat belt issue?

Davia Temin, chief executive, Temin and Co.: “At last someone is finally modeling what great customer care looks like in the new, hyper-connected era. Tesla’s reaction to the seat belt connection problem found in one car in Europe could be called an overreaction by many. But in the face of the totally failed, less-than-truthful public strategies seen from Volkswagen, General Motors and Takata, what Tesla is really doing is setting a new–and much needed–standard for addressing product failures and recalls, especially in the automotive industry.

“Tesla has taken it very seriously indeed. Its voluntary action resets the norm for industry recalls, particularly around issues that could cause loss of life. Tesla’s apparent ‘zero tolerance policy’ is even more powerful because it could have gotten away with doing nothing. Compared to VW, GM, or Takata, certainly the seat belt problem of one Model S does not seem that grave. But Tesla’s reaction shows trustworthy business practices in action.

“In this highly unstable world of social media–where anything can catch fire or be totally ignored–Tesla has wisely understood that overreaction can keep problems from going ballistic. Throw every wise solution you have at an incipient problem, especially if human life is at stake, and no one will ever doubt your trustworthy intent.”

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