Tesla is replacing its official forum site with one it can control

That's one way to handle criticism.

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Tesla is disappointing some of its customers with an unexpected decision to sunset its official forum website. The automaker is replacing the forums with something called Engage Tesla, a hub where Tesla's public policy team will share its priorities and encourage owners to get involved in supporting its agenda.

A notice atop the official forums indicates the site will become read-only starting March 15.

Advocacy platform — The new platform offers a direct line between Tesla and its diehard supporters, who are so loud and forceful in their support of the electric vehicle pioneer that any priority it advocates will surely be enthusiastically amplified by them. In one example, the company directs owners in Nebraska to push their local representatives to allow direct sales of vehicles in the state.

Engage Tesla also features fundraising campaigns for disaster relief efforts, and a list of upcoming Tesla owner events.

Listen, don't speak — The new engagement platform doesn't allow for user submissions, only the option to comment under posts made by Tesla itself. There are already many complaints under the platform's announcement post, with users saying it's not an adequate replacement for a true discussion forum where owners can speak freely.

The long-standing forums were largely unmoderated and helped fellow owners with issues find answers. Tesla's own customer support is often insufficient. A cursory glance shows posts with titles like, "2021 Model X Build Quality and my remorse," and other submissions with negative sentiments about vehicle quality or service.

The submissions on Tesla's official forums aren't always so cheery.

Poor communication — Issues with spam and trolling were ripe on Tesla's forums, which might be one motivation for closing them down. But it doesn't look great that Tesla has decided that its own forums — where many members are owners or interested buyers — are a net negative.

"The most lacking thing at Tesla is good customer service and engagement," one commenter on Engage Tesla writes. "I don't mean repair service, I mean two-way customer engagement. When people have a real problem such as over-billing, it is impossible to engage with anyone knowledgeable at Tesla." Many comments read a similar way.

As the rest of the automotive industry finally comes around to the inevitability of electrification, Tesla will have to improve the quality of its vehicles so that stories like Model 3 bumpers falling off don't remain so common. It would also do well to fix its customer support to better assist owners when things go wrong. Customer interaction and support are important parts of car ownership that Tesla still seems to miss, and when the competition heats up and you can get an electric car from anyone, the after-sales experience is going to be increasingly important to buyers.

For now, the /r/TeslaMotors subreddit is a good alternative with more than 1.1 million subscribers. At least Tesla can't choose to sunset that.