Owners love their Teslas, in spite of everything

Reading the many glowing reviews that Tesla’s vehicles have received, you might get the impression that they are faultless in every detail, the very definition of automotive perfection. However, this is not so - since the beginning, some have pointed out stains on the shining armor. When the Tesla Model S was launched, Consumer Reports awarded the car its highest-ever rating, and the magazine reaffirmed its approval a year later. More recently however, CR expressed concerns about Autopilot, and critiqued the Model X for reliability issues. And over the years, a number of journalists and individuals have said that, although Teslas are considered luxury vehicles, they don’t find the interior details to be very luxurious.


Above: Tesla's current line-up (Image: Tesla)

Tesla’s potential competitors are taking notice. When Lucid Motors released details of its upcoming Air electric sedan, it made a point of contrasting the Air’s premium materials and ultra-high-tech seats with Tesla’s comparatively Spartan interior fittings.

Now marketing research firm J.D. Power has released a report that discusses the brand’s quality issues, based on focus groups of Tesla owners and a comparison of Tesla models with competing luxury vehicles. In “Tesla: Beyond the Hype,” J.D. Power’s analysts write, “The overall quality of the vehicle is not competitive, especially when considering the segments it is playing in. In direct comparison to the exterior and interior quality of the likes of BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi, there is just no contest. The precision and attention to detail is just not there.”


Above: Tesla and some of the German automakers (Image: Car Magazine)

“Most notable are the cracks (literally and figuratively) noted in the overall build quality and durability of materials,” Power continues. “The level of body panel gaps, poor fitments, damaged trim pieces, and general misalignment was quite surprising. Not to mention the low-quality feel and sound of the doors, especially when considering the much-maligned falcon wing doors of the Model X. Moving into the interior did not inspire any further confidence, or motivation to spend six figures. The quality of materials used is sub-par, and with minimal miles, both the Model S and Model X showed significant wear, soiling, and in some areas, certain buttons, covers, etc. were literally falling off. Combine this with poorly-thought out ergonomics, questionable placement/layout of interior storage, and a distinctive lack of seating flexibility (particularly the X), and it starts to feel like the powertrain is one of the only incentives to purchase these vehicles.”

It's important to note that Tesla's build quality has substantially improved over the years as the company continues to mature. And J.D. Power doesn’t hate Teslas - far from it. The report also lists “many bright spots,” and notes the revolutionary nature of Tesla’s onboard computing power. “Over-the-air updates for nearly every aspect of the vehicle (from the powertrain to the way the driver interfaces with their climate control) truly make these feel like the vehicles of the future.”


Above: Tesla Model S driving in Autopilot mode (Image: Teslarati)

Power also concedes that “direct competitors in the luxury space have had decades to perfect the fit and finish of their vehicles (from the meticulousness of their headliner fitment to the proper placement of their cup holders) as well as the overall ride quality (reduction of [noise, vibration and harshness], steering feel, etc.). Yet these same brands are playing a hell of a game of catch-up, when considering their perpetually out-of-date [user interfaces].”

Whatever Tesla’s fit-and-finish failings may be, J.D. Power finds that they “have little influence on the overt affection owners have for these cars and the brand.” As Kathleen Rizk, Power’s Director of Global Automotive Consulting, puts it, “Tesla owners see themselves as pioneers who enjoy being early adopters of new technology. Spending $100,000 or more on a vehicle that has so many problems usually would have a dramatically negative effect on sales and brand perception. Right now, though, Tesla seems immune from such disenchanted customers.”

Other sources agree that Tesla’s customer loyalty is sky-high. Last December, Consumer Reports’ Annual Owner Satisfaction Survey found that 91 percent of Tesla owners said they would “definitely” buy their vehicle again - the best score in the industry, ahead of second-place Porsche by 7 points. In April 2016, a survey of 296 owners by independent researcher Christian Prenzler found that 92% were likely to purchase another Tesla, up from 81% in 2013.


Above: The J.D. Power study reflects similar findings from Consumer Reports which found Tesla owners are extremely satisfied with their vehicles (Image: Motley Fool via Consumer Reports)

However, J.D. Power warns that Model 3 buyers will be a more diverse group, and they may be less forgiving. “When consumers buy a mass-market car priced around $35,000 that will be their primary mode of transportation, the degree of expectation will increase immensely,” said Kathleen Rizk. “We’ve seen that with other well-liked brands.”

Be that as it may, J.D. Power cautions competing automakers that Tesla is a force to be reckoned with. “Despite some early hiccups, OEMs are wise to take note, as the level of innovation seen in such a short period is not likely to subside, and the more the brand’s portfolio diversifies, the better it will become at adapting. With the Model 3, Model Y, and an all-electric pickup on the horizon, this adaptation may happen sooner than some competition is ready for.”