Tesla Model S: Was Edmunds Too Critical of Tesla’s Flagship Luxury Electric Car?

In today’s modern age online reviews can make or break a product. The more reputable the person or organisation making the review, the more impact it can have on sales.

Was Edmunds too critical of the Tesla Model S?

Was Edmunds too critical of the Tesla Model S?

So when the highly-respected automotive information site Edmunds.com publishes a long-term car review, people sit up and take notice — especially if the review contradicts pretty much every other automotive publication out there.

At the end of last week, that’s exactly what happened when Edmunds published its final long-term review of the 2012 Tesla Model S. In response, the Internet exploded with claims from Tesla fans that Edmunds was guilty of unfair, biased reviewing.

Today, we’re here to ask if Edmunds was too critical of the Californian automaker Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] and its first mass-produced car — or if it made some valid points others have missed?

‘Hard to recommend’

“The Model S is a fast, comfortable and technologically brilliant luxury sedan, but numerous problems with its touchscreen, tires and drivetrain make it hard to recommend,” Edmunds wrote in its final conclusion after two years of Model S ownership.

In that time, Edmunds says its staff had witnessed numerous failures from the then $105,005 plug-in, resulting in countless trips to the local Tesla service centre and a few unexpected recoveries from the side of the road.

Moreover, some of the Edmunds staff remained displeased with the Model S’ rather basic trim, fit and finish, noting that while adequate, many features normally found in premium full-size sedans were missing.

The result is a review which has to be the most dismissive Model S review we’ve ever read, sharply contrasting rave reviews from everyone from Consumer Reports to BBC Top Gear’s Richard Hammond.

Edmunds gives a shopping list of faults it experienced with its Model S

Edmunds gives a shopping list of faults it experienced with its Model S

Litany of woes

During its ownership of the 2012 Tesla Model S P85, the Edmunds.com staff amassed a rather shocking list of faults and problems with their car, including multiple drivetrain and battery failures, a touchscreen failure, sunroof problems, and a cracked vanity mirror hinge to name a few.

In its defence, Edmunds notes that it purchased one of the earliest cars to roll off Tesla’s Fremont production line. As with any other car from any other automaker, cars made early-on in a new production cycle tend towards more errors and faults than those made later on in the model’s lifespan. In addition, most of the faults reported by Edmunds were repaired by Tesla under warranty or discretionary goodwill on the part of the Tesla service centre in question.

Second-to-none service

While the problems experienced by the Edmunds editorial team in two years and just over 30,000 miles of Model S ownership may read like a shopping list of horrors, we haven’t spoken to a single Model S owner who feels the same way about their Model S as the Edmunds editorial team.

That’s not because their cars have been free from problems, either. In fact, we’ve come across many Tesla owners both online and in real life who have suffered some form of problem with their luxury plug-in, ranging from drivetrain faults to battery pack failures and screen freezes.

Without fail however, every single owner we’ve spoken to says the level of service and attention they’ve received from their local Tesla service centre is second to none. Even when things go wrong, we’re told, Tesla’s service puts other automakers and traditional franchised dealerships to shame.

Despite what Edmunds says, we haven't found a Model S owner with a bad word to say about Tesla's level of service.

Despite what Edmunds says, we haven’t found a Model S owner with a bad word to say about Tesla’s level of service.

In fact, we’d go as far as to suggest the Edmunds team didn’t get to experience the usual Tesla service experience simply because of the fact that the car was part of a large test fleet being driven by multiple reviewers.

Unique experience

There’s also something to be said for the unique ownership experience offered by Tesla. Unlike other automakers, the way Tesla carries out and arranges service and repair work is very different to larger auto dealers working through franchised local dealerships.

In addition, several of Edmunds’ listed service items were in fact over-the-air updates to the Model S: updates designed to add functionality or fix flaws with the car’s operating system without even visiting the local service centre.

In our opinion, these firmware updates, carried out without any inconvenience to the owner, shouldn’t be treated as a form of warranty repair. Instead, like computer upgrade, they should be viewed as part of the free, ongoing maintenance offered by Tesla to its customers.  In that way, several of Edmunds‘ niggles with the Model S can be nullified.

Owning a Model S is unlike any other car on the market today.

Owning a Model S is unlike any other car on the market today.

A timely reminder

On the other hand however, Edmunds’ gritty review of the Tesla Model S shows us that like a car made by any other automaker, a Tesla Model S can — and will — go wrong. What’s more, Tesla’s early-production cars appear to suffer from the same problems as early-production cars from any other automaker, namely a higher likelihood of faults, niggles and recalls.

We should also note however, that Tesla has only been mass-producing cars for two years. Considering the general high satisfaction of Model S owners around the world, we think that it’s all too easy to forget that Tesla is still very new to the automotive world, yet it is offering a level of service when things go wrong which often exceeds far more established brands.

Yet we’d like to finish with one very important reminder that the Edmunds review gives us: neither Tesla nor any other automaker should ever be placed on a pedestal of perfection. Because when we do so we become little more than fanboys.

In short, there’s no such thing as a perfect automaker.

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  • Mark B. Spiegel

    >>…especially if the review contradicts pretty much every other automotive publication out there.<<nnSo how many other publications bought one and kept it for at least a year? The only one I know of is Motor trend, and it too had a drivetrain replaced. No one disputes that it's a great car (within its range limitations) when it runs, nor that Tesla takes good care of its owners' problems, but it's pretty hard to recommend a car if it breaks a lot, even if the manufacturer is happy to fix it for you. The new Consumer Reports quality survey comes out in late October and could be very interesting, as the second survey (last year's) showed quite a bit of slippage from the first, and it was only able to recommend the car by blending the two and rating reliability as "average."

    • WeaponZero

      The thing is, they didn’t really need to replace the drivetrains. What ends up happening is Tesla replaces the drivetrain because it is quicker, they then fix it and that drivetrain goes to the next car. Debugging takes time and customers want their cars back as quickly as possible.nnnConsidering an Edmunds employee bought the car from Edmunds, they were fairly confident in the overall quality.

      • Mark B. Spiegel

        Yes, I know that was Musk’s story on the conference call, but it still isn’t clear that the problem is truly understood (or what it will cost in labor to replace or install that “fifty-cent shim,” if that’s a possible cure). Keep in mind that Edmund’s third drivetrain (which clearly wasn’t “early production”) was also replaced, and if you monitor the Tesla forums you can see that it (the “hum”) just happened to a guy with a four-week old car. I agree that it’s extremely unlikely that “the entire drivetrain” would ever need to be replaced to fix this problem (or problems), but it could still be a very expensive repair– until Tesla figures out how to permanently make it “stop happening,” we (and maybe they) just don’t know.

        • cumiastowski

          Mark: You are grasping at straws. Tesla also said that actual warranty expenses are less than they’ve been accruing. This, along with many other details provided by Musk on the call, shoots huge holes in your thesis. You are looking for evidence to support an unfounded thesis instead of using evidence to create a thesis.

          • Mark B. Spiegel

            >>Tesla also said that actual warranty expenses are less than they’ve been accruing.<<nnThis is absolutely false from two perspectives:nn1) On the conference call, the exact quote from the CFO was "the overall impact on our warranty reserves has not been significant." All this means is that they haven't reserved more money because of the problem– this does NOT mean that they aren't even MORE "under-reserved" now.nn2) According to the Q1 10-Q, annualized warranty spend per-car was SIGNIFICANTLY higher than the per-car reserve. We won't know the Q2 situation until the company releases the new 10-Q.

          • cumiastowski

            Sorry Mark – I thought I remembered something the CFO said that he didn’t say. Looking at the accruals vs expenses I agree there is a good chance Tesla will have to increase the overall warranty provision per car. But none of this has any bearing on what Elon said on the call regarding the drivetrains. He was quite clear about the technical problem + solution and he was quite open about the fact that there would be service bulletin for a good number of S drivetrains (shim fix). The CFO was also very clear about the insignificant warranty effect from all of this.nnnIn short, there may need to be a boost to warranty reserves per car going forward. This could be a slight headwind to gross margin improvements. But there is absolutely NO merit to your argument that this drivetrain stuff matters to the financials.

          • Mark B. Spiegel

            >>But there is absolutely NO merit to your argument that this drivetrain stuff matters to the financials.<<nnBut we can't know that until we know:nna) The labor involved in the shim installationnb) Whether that's really a long-term fixnc) Whether that's the primary fix for a problem that (apparently– as reported on the Tesla forum) just happened to a four-week old carnnd) What the affect is on resale values and hence the company's "resale guarantee buyback program"ne) What the affect is on revenue when the new Consumer Reports reliability study comes out in October, which presumably (as the cars age) will now have these problems in it

          • OmarSultan

            You’re cherry picking data. The average warranty cost in Q1 was $294 per car. That is DOWN from from $411 for the same qtr a year ago by a significant amount. I would say that is an indicator that overall build quality is going up. 30K cars is also a relatively small sample size to look at averages, especially since you do not know what is being charged against the reserves, but the trend is a legitimate measure.

          • Mark B. Spiegel

            >>You’re cherry picking data. The average warranty cost in Q1 was $294 per car.<<nnNo, this is wrong. Tesla's most recent 10-Q states that Q1 2014 warranty expense was $9.3 million. If this was ndistributed among 28,000 cars (Tesla had delivered approximately 31,000 by the end of that quarter, but many of those came in late June and thus probably wouldn't have yet needed warranty work), it would come to $332 per car per quarter which is $1328 per car per year which– over a four year warranty period– would be $5300 in repairs per car. And as the bulk of the Model S's were less than a year old in Q1 of 2014, I think it's also reasonable to assume that as those cars age into years two, three and four of their warranty periods (and their mileage continues to accrue), their warranty expense may increase significantly.nnMeanwhile Tesla appeared to be accruing a "normalized reserve" of only approximately $2800 per car (adding $17.93 million to the reserve while delivering 6457 cars, with that $17.93 million figure excluding a one-time addition of $2 million more to pay for the titanium undershields).

          • OmarSultan

            Your are making a number of arbitrary assumptions, which is why I looked at the total in-service population, in that it give you a consistent trend, which is downing down, which you did not address. nnSince we do not know the exact accrual methodology or what kinds of things are charged against it beyond direct repair expenses, all I think you can legitimately comment on is the trend.nnThe Q2 detail will be interesting to see which way the trend goes.

          • Mark B. Spiegel

            The per-car expense in Q1 of 2013 included 7500 Model S’s and, probably, around 2000 Roadsters that were still under warranty. So if you divide the $3,107,000 expense by 9500 you get $327 per car. However, as a huge percentage of those S’s were brand new in Q1 of 2013 I think it’s fair to assume that a big chunk of those warranty costs were spent on Roadsters, whereas much less of the Q1 2014 cost was. Thus, it’s likely that the Model S expense actually INCREASED on a comparable basis.

          • OmarSultan

            Again, making a number of assumptions with no foundational data on things like mix. Because I don’t have that visibility, I am taking the entire amount and charging it against the Model S population to assess the trend, as the actual per-car number is meaningless without more data. As an example, per your earlier point, if warranty costs go up as cars age, then you might expect the Roadsters to be taking up a greater proportion of warranty costs until they all wash out of warranty coverage. On the other, since EVs age differently than ICE cars, perhaps the premise that warranty costs go up with time is flawed.

          • Mark B. Spiegel

            >>…per your earlier point, if warranty costs go up as cars age, then you might expect the Roadsters to be taking up a greater proportion of warranty costs until they all wash out of warranty coverage.<<nnYes, that's EXACTLY my point, and in Q1 of 2013 a huge chunk of those warranty expenses probably went to two, three and four year-old Roadsters and relatively little to Model S's, while by Q1 of 2014 there were far fewer Roadsters under warranty, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of total cars (as roughly 30,000 Model S's were on the road vs. just 7500 in the year-ago period). Thus, the per-car Model S warranty expense almost certainly went up substantially.

          • Shumdit

            Mark, your last sentence just proved you are just reaching into thin air without the facts needed to make a compelling case that you know what you are talking about. Lets leave the speculation to betting on sports games and weather forecasting.

  • Esl1999 .

    Most people want reliable transportation. For some people, durability and reliability are qualities they boast about when pertaining to their vehicle. Tesla needs to take care as to not blemish their brand by producing faulty cars. Yes, I’m sure they have a crack team, hopefully, working on all the problems with the same vigor that Toyota would. As a Californian, I’m rooting for them, but as a potential buyer for the Model 3, I can only hope they’ve worked out 95% of the bugs before I walk into a Westfield Mall. I, certainly, won’t be buying a used 2012-2013 Model S without a nice big warranty.

  • disqus_21jShFaTaX

    Just seen a more favourable review of BMW i8 u2013 the performance car to change perceptions forever?nnThis is the highly anticipated i8 from BMW. In essence, it is a near-u00a3100,000 supercar tuned for fuel efficiency from a mere 3-cylinder engine. nRead more: http://www.electriccar2buy.co.uk/news/bmw-i8-launch#ixzz39Ul5dXUdn

    • Shumdit

      It’s missing the practicality to make it a viable car for most people much like the Tesla roadster. The Model S is a suitable “only car” for people who have a family or more than one friend.

  • PaulScott58

    Blah, blah, blah. All this blather about troubles with the Model S and not one mention of the fact that this car can run on sunlight-generated energy, and all of the other cars Edmunds compares it to run on oil. If that’s not important to Edmunds then Edmunds needs to go get some ethics.

    • Philippe de Lespinay

      Takes a LOT of oil to manufacture a nearly 5000 lbs car such as a Tesla S. Also battery manufacturing is a terribly polluting mess. You may ignore it, but it results in the following: over both vehicles entire lives, the production, running and disposal of a Prius and a Hummer H2 are very comparable in their overall pollution and contribution to atmospheric deterioration.nEVERYTHING you use, you buy, you eat is made from or uses oil to be produced. As soon as you can actually find a viable replacement, please ring me up.

      • PaulScott58

        Philippe, you are mistaken. The whole “Prius vs. Hummer” thing was made up by anti-EV groups funded by the oil industry. see: http://www.thecarconnection.com/tips-article/1010861_prius-versus-hummer-exploding-the-mythnnnThe manufacture of the Tesla and its battery pack compares to the manufacturing of similar sized ICE vehicles. However, the operation of the EV is significantly cleaner, expecially when you use renewable electricity (RE) as many EV drivers do.

        • Philippe de Lespinay

          Sorry, but the debunking was debunked. While the original story said that the Prius polluted MORE than the Hummer, it was then shown that they were pretty much equal. nThing is, I love the idea of electric cars but the new form of pollution they create is just as bad as oil, and no one has a better idea, yet. When one considers certain Diesel cars getting like 180 miles per gallon with conventional reciprocating engines, when you can buy a Renault Clio (but not in the USA) that is such a good car and delivers regularly over 50 MPG on gas while providing excellent performance through extreme fuel injection and variable cam timing refinement, the electric brigade has a LONG way up to compete.

    • elixer8062

      The majority of America’s energy comes from coal by a long shot. While some Tesla owners will install solar panels on their home the vast majority don’t.

      • PaulScott58

        Currently, coal generated electricity is less than 40% of the national grid mix. I learned in school that 40% is less than half and clearly not a “majority”.

        • elixer8062

          Let me clarify then. Here’s the 2013 breakdown. Coal has the largest relative majority by a wide margin.nnSolar is a drop in the bucket and shouldn’t even be talked about. nnCoal 39%nNatural Gas 27%nNuclear 19%nHydropower 7%nBiomass 1.48%nGeothermal 0.41%nSolar 0.23%nWind 4.13%nPetroleum 1%nOther Gases < 1%

          • PaulScott58

            Glad you got your facts straight. Solar and wind are the fastest growing sources of new energy in the U.S. nnnWhy would any rational person say, “Solar is a drop in the bucket and shouldn’t even be talked about.”? nnnIf you don’t like the negative aspects of dirty energy, then why wouldn’t you want to talk about solar? Why wouldn’t you want to change the source of your energy from one that pollutes and causes harm to others to one that is cheaper and causes no harm to anyone? nnnIf you were a good person and a rational person, you would want to switch to renewable energy.

          • elixer8062

            I’m all for renewable energy but solar doesn’t provide enough bang for your buck. The installations are massive and provide a tiny fraction of power versus other options. They’re not a realistic large scale solution IMO. I’d like to see something like Throrium rectors become a reality but that all depends on where investors spend their $$$.

          • PaulScott58

            Residential solar is cheaper than grid power in most of the country now. If you internalize the true costs of dirty energy, solar is cheaper than grid power in all states.nnnYou might be relying on old information regarding renewables, many people are not up to speed on the rapid drop in PV and wind costs.

  • Dennis Pascual

    Wow… 16 other comments already before I got to read the article today.nnnAs a Model S owner, the amount of service that the car gets IS higher than average. The only vehicle I’ve had that has been “faultier” has been my Active E, and that too was an EV.nnnAs long as one is in the warranty period, and these things get refined, I fully expect the time the car spends in the shop and under repair to diminish. It could be that all the nits gets worked out or there gets to be more and more “permanent” fixes for common problems.nnnI’m sure I can list out all the problems, but a lot of it are really “small” at this time. The biggest replacements for me at around 17,000 miles has been my panoramic roof (had to be reseated) and my VDI (the 17″ touchscreen) had to be replaced (newer models have MORE memory in them) because I kept running too many things and causing memory leaks.nnnNow, I’d hate to jinx myself, but should a new or repair of a drivetrain is needed, it wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened to me (i.e. Active E) at least Tesla does provide Model S loaners (when available) and I would hope that I’m lucky enough to get one, should this happen. With BMW, there was no such option, if the Active E went in, one got an ICE for a loaner.

  • kidmarc

    “Was Edmunds too critical of the Tesla Model S?”nnNo. Edmunds took an objective stance with the Model S, where others have shown a bit more subjective comments.nn”In short, thereu2019s no such thing as a perfect automaker.”nnFamous last words… be it these words (above) or the “… no silver bullet” one or what have you, we keep coming back to those who state these words, are having it easy to say, but extremely difficult to stand by or live up to.nnPeace

  • elixer8062

    The most recent CR review has basically mirrored Edmunds reliability problems. They love the car but there have been a lot of problems with it.