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Tesla’s long-term viability called into question as company combusts in reliability ratings

Published Oct 20th, 2015 3:06PM EDT
Tesla Model S Reliability

Citing reliability issues, Consumer Reports is no longer recommending the Tesla Model S, the very same car that not too long ago scored so highly during testing that it broke Consumer Reports’ ratings system.

In a survey of 1,400 Model S owners, the publication found that many users experienced a number of lingering problems affecting all facets of the driving experience. From drivetrain and charging issues to problems with the car’s somewhat iconic 17-inch center digital console, Consumer Reports was apparently taken aback by how frequently users were forced to take their cars in for repairs.

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The market reacted swiftly to the news, with shares of Tesla now down nearly 27 points as a result.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

“As the older vehicles are getting up on miles, we are seeing some where the electric motor needs to be replaced and the onboard charging system won’t charge the battery,” said Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ director of automotive testing. “On the newer vehicles, we are seeing problems such as the sunroof not operating properly. Door handles continue to be an issue.”

Fisher said the flaws could signal future problems for the brand, which plans to roughly double production next year. It has just begun deliveries of a second vehicle, the Model X electric crossover, and intends to introduce the Model 3, a smaller, less expensive electric car, in 2017.

So while Consumer Reports still has nothing but praise for the Model S driving experience, it simply can’t get past the myriad of reliability issues which it claims affects the car.

Now there are three things worth mentioning here.

First, this couldn’t come at a worst time for Tesla. Though the Model S has garnered heaps of praise, Tesla remains a fledgling automaker still trying to prove that it can succeed as a relative newcomer in a market inundated with experienced players. Furthermore, with the Model X now shipping and available for order, the last thing Tesla wants or needs is for reliability concerns to impact demand for its new SUV.

Second, the Consumer Reports piece arguably raises more questions than it answers. Specifically, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen users complain about various parts breaking down on the Model S. Still, other surveys that have revealed similar complaints also relay that the vast majority of Model S owners would buy the same car again, reliability issues and all. In other words, sure, the Model S has some kinks to work out, but perhaps the driving experience ultimately outweighs other frustrations. At the same time, Tesla’s long-term plan involves becoming a mainstream player, with deliveries in the 500,000 range. So while Tesla-heads might be willing to overlook reliability issues, perhaps the same won’t be true for mass market consumers.

Third, and to play Tesla apologist for a brief second, Tesla has made a number of significant improvements to the Model S over the past few years. That being said, it’s not entirely clear if some of the reliability issues cited by consumers disproportionately affect vehicles that were purchased in 2012. Is it possible that a brand new Model S right off the production line is more reliable than a Model S that shipped in 2012 or even 2013? Of course. Can we be sure that a 2015 Model S won’t exhibit similar reliability issues in 2018? Sadly, no.

All in all, not a good news day for Tesla, especially when the company is used to being flowered with adoring praise from all angles.

Yoni Heisler Contributor

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 15 years. A life long Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW. When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.