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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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