Consumer Reports downgrades ratings of Tesla models

David Welch
Bloomberg News

Tesla Inc. is deploying automatic braking to its recently built electric vehicles, though not in time to spare the Model X and Model S from ratings cuts by Consumer Reports magazine.

Model X sport utility vehicles and Model S sedans produced over roughly the last six months lacked functioning automatic emergency-braking systems that use collision-detecting sensors to slow or stop vehicles before a crash. Consumer Reports said Wednesday that the lack of the feature — which Tesla had said would be available by the end of last year — would cost each model two points on the magazine’s 100-point scale.

Consumer Reports and Tesla have been through a series of ups and downs. Its testers have gone from calling the Model S the best car evaluated in 2014, to awarding an off-the-charts rating the next year, to dropping their recommendation of the car in late 2015 due to owner-reported reliability concerns. Tesla said an over-the-air rollout of the software upgrade that will activate the emergency-braking system began Tuesday.

“Tesla said they would have the software update soon,” Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing at Consumer Reports, said in a phone interview before Tesla announced the update had started. “Unfortunately, we have heard that in the past, as well.”

Investors have taken Consumer Reports’ whims seriously because the magazine has built credibility by paying for the vehicles it tests and refusing automakers’ advertising. Tesla’s stock has surged on Consumer Reports’ praise and plunged when its cars have come under criticism. The shares dropped more than 1 percent to $310.17 at the close of New York trading Wednesday.

Due to the loss of points related to the lack of automatic emergency braking, the Model S now has a score of 85 and is Consumer Reports’ third-best ultra-luxury car, behind the Lexus LS and BMW 7 Series sedans.

The Model X’s rating drops to 56, ranking it near the bottom among luxury midsized SUVs, according to the magazine. Consumer Reports said it will re-evaluate once the automatic-braking feature is activated.

Tesla disabled automatic braking when it transitioned to new hardware in October that it said would render every one of its vehicles capable of self-driving at a later date. The company shifted its approach with advanced safety features following an ugly breakup with Israeli supplier Mobileye NV.

Automatic emergency-braking systems that work at speeds below 55 miles per hour are standard on 19 percent of cars this year, according to Consumer Reports. About 14 percent of vehicles are equipped to handle highway speeds.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and major automakers signed an agreement last year to make the systems a standard feature on U.S. vehicles by 2022. IIHS released a study in 2016 that found the systems reduce rear-end crashes by about 40 percent.