Consumer Reports reliability ratings: Tesla bitterly complains, and CR responds

"Average" didn't seem to please Tesla.

  • Image Credit: Tesla

Update: Consumer Reports has issued a response to Tesla's criticisms: "Tesla appears unhappy that CR expects the new-to-market Tesla Model 3 to be of average reliability, which is generally a positive projection for any first model year of a car." And, "Tesla seems to misunderstand or is conflating some of what we fundamentally do." You can find CR's full response here.

DETROIT — New technology to stream music into dashboards or boost fuel efficiency is making cars less reliable, although electric cars such as the Tesla Model 3 and the Chevrolet Bolt should fare better than many conventional models, Consumer Reports magazine said on Thursday.

The Consumer Reports survey of 640,000 vehicles owned by consumers showed that all-new vehicles or models with newly updated technology are more likely than older models to have a "wonky engine, a jerky transmission, or high-tech features that fail outright."

Electric cars do away with many of the mechanical systems that prompt consumer complaints about conventional cars, the magazine said. Tesla Inc's Model 3, despite recent production problems, should have "average" reliability because it relies on technology already used on the older Tesla Model S, Jake Fisher, the magazine's head of automotive testing, said on Thursday at a meeting of the Detroit Automotive Press Association.

The Bolt is the most reliable car in the Chevrolet brand, he said.

The magazine's annual survey of new vehicle reliability predicts which cars will give owners fewer or more problems than their competitors, based on data provided by the owners of those 640,000 vehicles. Its scorecard is influential among consumers and industry executives.

But "average" didn't seem to please Tesla, which in a statement on Thursday criticized Consumer Reports. because it previously declared the Model S "to be the best car ever and then revoked the rating after being questioned by Tesla skeptics."

"Time and time again, our own data shows that Consumer Reports' automotive reporting is consistently inaccurate and misleading to consumers," Tesla said. It accuses Consumer Reports of conducting tests and surveys that "lack basic scientific integrity." In CR's response on Friday, the consumer organization responded that it conducts a long-established battery of 50 standardized tests — and purchases every car it reviews to avoid any implication of favor.

As for the Model 3, Tesla said, "It's important to note that Consumer Reports has not yet driven a Model 3, let alone do they know anything substantial about how the Model 3 was designed and engineered."

​​​​​​Three points regarding Tesla's criticism:

First, CR in 2015 did in fact briefly bestow its highest-ever rating to the Tesla Model S, giving it 103 points on its 100-point scale. That after the Model S had received an "average" rating the year before — in part because faulty door handles locked testers out of the car. But just months after that top overall rating, when survey results from 1,400 Tesla owners came in, the magazine rated the car's reliability as "worse than average." By 2017, Tesla had pulled its overall brand rating for reliability up to No. 8. In this new survey, Tesla comes in at No. 21.

As for the Model 3: With brand-new models that don't yet have a reliability track record, the magazine has a means of making an educated prediction. CR, in predicting the Model 3, is using the same approach it applies to all other new models, and is transparent about its methodology: "We will make a prediction for a brand new or redesigned model, or a model with insufficient data, based on the manufacturer's track record, history of the previous generation, or similar models that shared the same components. Of course, this is only a prediction, and these scores are not a guarantee of the reliability of any individual car."

And of course, Consumer Reports hasn't driven the Model 3 through no fault of its own but because Tesla had delivered only 220 of them as of a few weeks ago. CR in its Friday response said, "You can rest assured that we will thoroughly test and evaluate the Model 3 with the same care and scrutiny we apply to all the cars we test just as soon as we can get one — we're waiting patiently along with other consumers."

Elsewhere in the ratings, for the fifth straight year Japanese automaker Toyota placed first in the magazine's brand ranking with the most reliable vehicles on average. General Motors' Cadillac brand was last among 27 brands ranked.

With many new cars, customers complain about problems with continuously variable transmissions and eight- and nine-speed gear boxes designed to boost fuel mileage, Fisher said.

Hard to use infotainment systems also continue to annoy customers, Fisher said. But over-the-air updates are helping automakers alleviate problems more quickly, he said.

Reporting by Joe White. Material from Autoblog's archives was used in this report.

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