Consumer Reports pulls recommendation of Tesla Model S

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Tesla Motors’ Model S may have the all-time top performance test score of any car tested by Consumer Reports. But when it comes to reliability, the electric car with a base price of $70,000 has a worse-than-average predicted reliability score, according to the organization’s annual survey.

Consumer Reports on Tuesday pulled its “buy” recommendation for the Model S after downgrading its reliability from “average,” Jake Fisher, the organization’s director of auto testing, said. The annual survey, which included responses from 1,400 Model S owners, found “an array of detailed and complicated maladies,” including problems with the car’s drivetrain, power equipment, charging equipment and center console, as well as body and sunroof squeaks, rattles and leaks.

Tesla’s stock price fell $15.07, closing at $213.03, after the poor results were announced at the Automotive Press Association in Detroit Tuesday afternoon. The swoon was the equivalent of 6.6 percent.

“It’s multiple things that we’re seeing,” Fisher said. “They were only average before, so it doesn’t take a lot to bring them below.”

Consumer Reports didn’t include Tesla in its ranking of 28 other brands because that required enough responses for at least two models — and Tesla has only just started delivery of its second vehicle, the Model X.

Vehicles with new technology typically struggle in reliability reports, Fisher said, and Tesla suffered because of all the additional features it’s beginning to offer.

In addition to the Model X crossover, Tesla plans to launch its Model 3 in 2017. Through the first nine months of the year, Tesla sold about 15,000 vehicles, according to Autodata, which compiles sales figures.

“The complexity of the build is increasing,” Fisher said. “Going forward, we’re going to have the Model X, Model 3 and they’re increasing volume, so it’s going to be difficult for them to contain quality on it as suddenly their whole business model changes.”

Despite the reliability concerns, 97 percent of owners said they’d definitely buy a Tesla again.

“Close communication with our customers enables Tesla to receive input, proactively address issues and quickly fix problems,” Tesla said in an emailed response to Consumer Reports. “Model S over-the-air software updates allow Tesla to diagnose and fix most bugs without the need to come in for service. In instances when hardware needs to be fixed, we keep the customer’s convenience and satisfaction top of mind.”

In August, Consumer Reports gave the Model S P85D a 103 out of 100 in its performance test after the sedan “set a new benchmark.”

“It’s a great car and we stand by those words,” Fisher said. “It’s a great-performing vehicle — when it’s working 100 percent.”

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