Tesla Shares Tumble After Consumer Reports Rescinds Model 3 Recommendation

Survey data shows reliability concerns over electronics, glass defects, panel fitment, and paint issues.

James Lipman/Tesla

Tesla shares fell nearly 3.7 percent during trading hours on Thursday afternoon, largely attributed to an announcement by Consumer Reports declaring that it has rescinded its prior recommendation for the Model 3 electric sedan over "declining reliability."

The stripping of the recommendation comes after Consumer Reports tallied the results of an annual survey focused on vehicle reliability. The survey, which collects data on an estimated 470,000 vehicles, evaluates overall reliability, as well as key issues which pinpoint specific problems reported by owners who provide a response to the study. In this particular survey, Consumer Reports says that it received responses from more than 500 owners of 2018 model-year Model 3 sedans.

Consumer Reports originally scored the Model 3 as having "average" reliability in 2017 and again in 2018. However, followup data from its surveys has lead the organization to update its reliability rating to below-average, removing the vehicle from its list of recommended automobiles.

"When we look at the Model 3 a lot of the issues are the electronics," said Consumer Reports’ Senior Director of Automotive Testing, Jake Fisher. "There are some issues replacing the (navigation/infotainment) screens, for instance, but we've seen other issues in terms of the trim breaking and the glass."

Among the problems reported by Model 3 owners were several in-car electrical problems focused on the central display that houses and controls the majority of the vehicle's functions. Such problems included freezing screens and phantom presses. Owners also complained about glass defects, as well as general fit and finish issues; panel gaps and poor painting have both been a long-standing subject of criticism for Tesla vehicles.

A Tesla spokesperson told Consumer Reports that many of the issues being cited have already been resolved, noting, "The vast majority of these issues have already been corrected through design and manufacturing improvements."

Inversely to the mounding problems experienced by Model 3 owners, Tesla still tops CR’s charts for highest overall owner satisfaction. The publication attributes this to an "enthusiast following" which results in owners brushing off the problems in lieu of brand loyalty.

“In most cases, reliability issues will undermine satisfaction," adds Fisher. "But when a vehicle has an enthusiastic following, like with Tesla, owners may overlook some issues. We’ve seen this with other vehicles such as the Jeep Wrangler and Chevrolet Corvette.”

Fortunately, drivers who are more focused on the powertrain reliability have good news in store. Consumer Reports indicates that relatively few owners reported problems with Tesla's electric motors, solidifying Tesla's claims of ultra-reliable drive units, especially when compared to the average internal combustion engine.