Tesla And I Agree About Consumer Reports

consumer reports

Listeners to my radio show know that, in general, I disagree with pretty much everything Consumer Reports (CR) says about cars. As I told a listener just last weekend, it is my opinion that since they do not accept advertising dollars and rely on subscription fees, they do their best to grab headlines and sensationalize issues.

CR Calls The Tesla Model 3 Average

The 2017 Consumer Reports Annual Reliability survey was recently released and Tesla took exception with the fact that Consumer Reports rated the new Tesla Model 3 as “average” reliability.  The question is, how do they know?   The first Model 3 rolled off the assembly line in July, but the Consumer Reports survey went out last spring.

So lets lay the cards on the table here: the information on the Model 3 is made up and baseless, which calls into question the entire list and its credibility.

Predictive Reliability

The answer lies in something called “predictive reliability”.   According to the Consumer Reports website:

The Predictive Reliability, also called New Car Prediction, forecasts how well a new model that is currently on sale is likely to hold up based on its recent history. For this rating, we average a model’s Used Car Reliability score for the newest three years, provided the vehicle did not change significantly in that time and hasn’t been redesigned for the upcoming model year.

So, the Tesla Model 3 is an all-new vehicle.  There is no history, there are no used Model 3s to draw information from either good or bad.  Why rate the vehicle at all?  The simple answer is Tesla fascinates people, and that leads to subscriptions and magazine sales.

Tesla Fires Back

Tesla, not known for sitting quietly, fired back, saying Consumer Reports was:

“…consistently inaccurate and misleading to consumers” while pointing out it is “important to note that Consumer Reports has not yet driven a Model 3, let alone do they know anything substantial about how the Model 3 was designed and engineered.”

Problems With The Survey

Predictions are not science. Let’s call it what it is: A GUESS. I have seen cars that start out with a few problems, many very minor, that turn out to be some of the best vehicles ever made, and the opposite is true as well.  Here are some issues I see with the findings:

  • Some of the vehicles that scored low were based on Bluetooth connectivity, navigation systems, sound systems, and other new technology that people do not understand.  Isn’t this supposed to be a study of reliability?  If someone can’t figure out how to sync his or her phone, does that mean the vehicle is going to be unreliable?  Not in my opinion.
  • The Chevy Bolt, like the Tesla Model 3, is all-new too and wasn’t out when the Consumer Reports survey was mailed.  Yet, the all-electric Bolt got an “above average” rating (prediction). Why is the Tesla average and the Bolt above average?
  • In 2015, Consumer Reports rated the Tesla Model S P85D “the best car ever” and went so far as say they had to change their rating scores because it did not go high enough for Model S.  That was later rescinded after a number of problems surfaced with this particular car.
  • Just in case you forgot, the February 2007 issue of Consumer Reports stated that only two of the child safety seats it tested for that issue passed the magazine’s side impact tests. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which subsequently retested the seats, found that all those seats passed the corresponding NHTSA tests at the speeds described in the magazine report.  The Consumer Reports article reported that the tests simulated the effects of collisions at 38.5 mph. However, the tests that were completed, in fact, simulated collisions at 70 mph. Consumer Reports stated in a letter from its president to its subscribers that it would retest the seats. The article was removed from the CR website, and on January 18, 2007, the organization posted a note on its homepage about the misleading tests.

The Suzuki Case

In 1988, CR reported the Suzuki Samurai was unsafe and prone to roll over.  Sales of the Samurai went from over 87,000 in 1987, to just over 5000 two years later.  The Samurai had been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and found to be just fine.

Suzuki sued, alleging Consumer Reports was looking for a sensational story to boost magazine sales.  Documents showed that prior to the Suzuki story, the parent company of Consumer Reports was short on cash after moving into a new huge facility.

In testimony, a former CR employee recounted that doing the rollover test of the Samurai, as had been done with 37 other vehicles, the Samurai would not roll over.  The driver stated the Samurai “never felt like it would tip over.” Another driver gave the Samurai Consumer Reports highest stability rating, saying it “corrects quickly” and “responds well.”

They tried the test at a faster speed than ever tried before and swerved so sharply that the vehicle went off the track, but they did get two wheels off the ground to the cheers of the editorial staff.  Still not satisfied, CR built a new track to make rolling over easier.  After repeated attempts on the new track, they finally got the Samurai to tip off the ground.

In testimony, Suzuki had proof that immediately after the story and picture of the Samurai were published, CR sent out millions of donation solicitations and subscription invitations featuring the Suzuki Samurai. 

In Conclusion

The Suzuki case was a long time ago, but I can’t help but factor it into the way I think about the organization. Looking over the list, sometimes I just shake my head.  The Consumer Reports list shows the least reliable Toyota made is the Tacoma.  WHAT?  It is one of most reliable trucks on the road, perhaps THE most reliable truck on the road and I’ve said that for years.  Again, they show the most reliable Chevy model to be the Bolt, which wasn’t out when the survey was mailed.

For years I have heard the saying “follow the money.” That would seem to be the case here for sure. They are quick to announce they don’t take ads in the magazine, but let’s face it…sensationalized headlines sell magazines.

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8 Comments
  1. Lee 6 months ago

    Could not be more true about Consumer Reports. You are right on the money.

  2. Richard Eastman 6 months ago

    For whatever it counts, my personal experience with Consumer Reports has proven to be very similar to that express by CarPro … in products that have NOTHING to do with cars. I stopped subscribing to Consumer Reports for this reason. // Richard Eastman

  3. Ron 6 months ago

    This story not withstanding, Consumer Reports is the Gold Standard. They purchase all products and test them without any manufacturer knowledge. This the only truly unbiased way to review vehicles and any other product for that matter. Their April car issue is produced from Scientific survey samples..i.e. if not enough surveys are returned..the vehicle model year is rated insufficient data. A personal case in point…The 2005 Chrysler 300C CR rating..Not Recommended.. I ignored their rating..purchased new and the vehicle was a piece of junk.

  4. Sewell Keeter 6 months ago

    Consumer Reports “surveys” suffer from the failure to conduct true statistical (scientifically random) surveys. The magazine summarizes what it gets, not what it directly polls. Statisticians live or die by the designs of their studies. Consumer Reports has no design other than to request unverifiable information. Bad news sells; good news doesn’t. However, to conduct truly conclusive and verifiable surveys would cost virtually all of CR’s budgets for several years. Moreover, the results of those scientific and mathematically grounded surveys would likely be old news when published. Use CR to question a particular decision you might make, but don’t make a choice solely on CR’s recommendations. Those recommendations are almost always based on seriously flawed data collection and analyses.

  5. Jim 6 months ago

    I recall CR stating the Isuzu Trooper was prone to rollover. I drove my Trooper Limited to a ripe old 213,000 miles never experiencing anything close to a rollover. It was then I knew CR reviews were unreliable. It seems to me they tend to pick on companies that do not have the resources or presence that larger manufactures have.

  6. john saltmarsh 6 months ago

    I absolutely agree with your thoughts, and have for years. I am not sure they know how to rate a vehicle even when driving one. I do’t think rating a washing machine or TV qualifies them to rate vehicles. Good on Ya. J. Saltmarsh

  7. Bill Hawkins 6 months ago

    Jerry;
    I currently have a 2007 Mercedes S550 with about 55,000 miles. I am the second owner (2010) all it have been done by the Mercedes delete, Mercedes of San Antonio, I would like to buy a 2016 or 2018 lease or purchase, the car is in excellent shape.

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