Tesla CEO Elon Musk Takes to Twitter to Defend Brand Against Consumer Reports’ Low Scores

If there’s one thing we can say for sure about Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] CEO Elon Musk, it’s that he’s not afraid of standing up for what he believes is right.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is always willing to stand up for the company he helped build.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is always willing to stand up for the company he helped build.

And that’s exactly what happened yesterday when the real-life Tony Stark took to social media site Twitter to defend the honor of the Tesla Model S following the announcement from Consumer Reports on Tuesday that it was dropping its recommended status for the Tesla Model S following the car’s poor marks in its Annual Auto Reliability Survey.

For those unfamiliar with the story, the publication — which had been almost gushing in its praise of the high-end luxury sedan to date — uncovered a plethora of problems experienced by Tesla owners when it collated the responses of the 1400 Tesla Model S owners who took time to fill out its Annual Auto Reliability Survey for 2015.

The survey, which encourages readers of Consumer Reports to detail the ownership experiences of any car they’ve owned in the past year which is less than three years of age, scores automakers on average reliability of their vehicles, scoring them on a failures per-capita basis to ensure that there’s an even playing field between all brands.

In previous years, the generally glowing Consumer Reports test drives and surveys carried out on the Model S, along with an ‘average’ reliability score in the 2014 Auto Reliability Survey meant that the Model S was eligible for the coveted Consumer Reports red tick recommendation.

Musk: many of the cars in the CR survey are older models with known problems.

Musk: many of the cars in the CR survey are older models with known problems.

But this year, the Model S scoring ‘below average’ in the Reliability Survey meant that the publication was forced to withdraw its recommendation on the basis of its own long-established criteria.

In explaining its decision, Consumer Reports listed a long list of maladies, ranging from frozen touch-screen displays through to incorrectly-operating latches, leaky sunroofs and drivetrain failures.

While the overwhelming majority of those failures were dealt with in an exemplary manner by Tesla’s service team, earning praise from nearly every respondent who experienced a problems with their Model S, the magazine said it could no longer recommend the luxury plug-in to its readers.

Taking to Twitter yesterday afternoon, Musk was quick to point out his belief that the results from the Consumer Reports survey was not representative of the majority of Model S cars.

That’s a fact that Consumer Reports acknowledged in its own findings, noting that owners of older 2013 Tesla Model S cars were suffering more drivetrain failures than those of newer vehicles. These cars, representative of the first full year of manufacturer at the Californian automaker, have already been acknowledged by Tesla to have weaker drivetrains than later model year cars, making Musk’s comment a valid one at least for now (we’ll find out the long-term validity of that comment in future Consumer Reports surveys). In addition to defending the Model S by apportioning some of the faults to early production cars, Musk’s next quote is undeniable in its logic, if somewhat troubling for those looking to Tesla’s bottom line. 

Tesla customers love their cars -- a fact it's hard to argue with.

Tesla customers love their cars — a fact it’s hard to argue with.

While we’d agree that customer satisfaction and indeed likelihood to purchase a Tesla again really is the acid test of the relatively new company, we’d also argue that time (and money) spent repairing customers cars is money that could be spent elsewhere.

As far as we’re aware, that’s a view shared by the majority of Tesla’s staff, with recent earnings calls and shareholder reports underlying Tesla’s efforts to increase production efficiency and vehicle reliability in the long term.

Good customer service is one thing, but like any company, producing products which don’t require warranty repair is going to be favourable in the long term.

There is however one thing which Tesla can’t be faulted on: its willingness to listen to its customers. In a subsequent tweet yesterday evening, Musk asked owners directly what features and enhancements they’d like in the next incremental update to their car’s operating system: Version 7.1

Responses, ranging from better autopilot functionality to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a third-party SDK and more Home Link options, show us one thing.

Despite losing Consumer Reports’ recommendation, Tesla Motors and its larger-than-life CEO, are well loved and supported by the tens of thousands of Tesla fans and owners out there.

With that much support, it’s tough to fail.


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