Tesla Motors has become the darling of the automotive world. Their cars are coveted by people all over the world, and those who have the means to are shelling out hundreds of thousands to get their hands on one. In the eyes of most media, they can do no wrong. The few who have dared point out something negative have been slandered or publicly challenged by Tesla’s owner and founder, Elon Musk.
I must admit, I see the appeal. Tesla’s Model S is a very attractive car. They offer a glimpse into the futuristic cars Sci Fi magazines from the 50s and 60s told us we’d have. With nearly 300 miles in electric range, they offer the only practical all-electric car. Their interiors are on the cutting edge of user interface design, offering a full touch screen experience. Seasoned automotive journals and high-profile tech personalities alike have praised the vehicles. Tesla’s lack of gas and “green” image might blind us to a bigger issue, however.
We need look no further than the folks at Consumer Reports. Trusted by tens of millions of paying subscribers, Consumer Reports has positioned itself as the pinnacle authority in the testing and review of products. From kitchen appliances to tablets they’ve tested and provided comprehensive results, to those who have paid. Consumer Reports’ automotive reviews have become a coveted award among automakers. Reviews tear an item apart and reduce it to a series of circles, either coloured in or not. Their annual “best picks” and top pick awards are lauded by automakers as badges of honour.
But there is some tarnish on that badge.
For two years running, 2014 and 2015, Consumer Reports has named the Tesla Model S as the best overall pick. An award Tesla has made no small effort rubbing into the faces of its detractors. Consumer Reports gave the Model S a score of 99, the highest rating a car has ever received in the history of everything. Yet, despite the trumpeting fanfare, there is one elephant that should be weighing down the score.
Or, in the case of the Model S, a glaring lack of it. Despite this, Consumer Reports has given the Model S their near perfect 99, twice. It also received a higher place on the podium than cars like the Subaru Legacy, which scored an 89 overall but had a 4/5 in reliability. Consumer Reports has given the Model S a reliability of 3, which puts it on par with cars like the Chevrolet Impala. In fact, in the same article, Consumer Reports rates the Toyota Highlander as an 84 with 5/5 reliability. Surely the second score must be worth something?
Perhaps the reviews aren’t as accurate as they should be. To investigate, lets take a look at some sites which rate cars reliability based on user feedback, independent of the Consumer Reports brand. These are surprisingly hard to come by. Typical sources, like the JD Power circle ratings, have left Tesla’s Model S off their system. Most aggregate sites point to Consumer Reports’ own internal reliability score of “average.” But, there is one site, a goto resource for me when I review cars, which paints an interesting picture.
TrueDelta takes responses from an annual survey of members and creates reliability rankings for vehicles based on repair trips and costs. It even calculates the odds of getting a lemon when buying a second hand car. Here is a look at how they rate the Tesla Model S:
The score of 76 repair trips per year makes Tesla the worst rated manufacturer between 2012 and 2015 on TrueDelta by a margin of more than 20. In fact, only one manufacturer is worse than Tesla at the highest (worst) score in their range:
Somehow, TrueDelta’s definition of average doesn’t seem to stack up against Consumer Reports’. Consumer Reports, in the same top 10 list, rates the 2015 Audi A6 as “average” (3/5); the same score they gave the Model S. If you look at the TrueDelta report, it’s clear the A6 and Model S aren’t in the same rating for reliability. Unbelievably, Consumer Reports, in the 2015 list, also states the 2015 Chevy/GMC Silverado/Sierra and Dodge Ram 1500 were omitted because they “weren’t reliable enough.” These trucks both score much higher than the Model S in their TrueDelta ratings. Nothing suggesting a double standard there. What’s more, Consumer Reports itself admits that “Tesla has chronic reliability issues…,” reporting a half dozen issues in their less-than-a-year-old Model S before it even hit 16,000 miles (25,750 km).
Consumer Reports can’t even convince itself.
In their article Consumer Reports does ponder lowering the overall reliability score of the Tesla and, to their credit, they did, to its current 3/5. But, have they lowered it enough? Is a car so plagued with issues and delivery delays worth a score of 99, the highest ever given? In my opinion, no. Not even close. The Model S is not one point from perfect, reliability considerations included.
Perhaps it’s time for Consumer Reports to review their top pick. Or, perhaps, it’s time to consider there is more bias at work than those little red circles let on.