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Tesla regains Consumer Reports endorsements as GM brands stumble

Tesla Model 3
In the past year, Tesla has fixed many of the problems that cost its Model 3 a Consumer Reports blessing.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Tesla Inc.’s Model 3 and S sedans reclaimed recommendations from Consumer Reports, though the electric-car maker still ranks toward the bottom of the group’s annual reliability survey along with other U.S. automakers’ brands.

The two Tesla models earned an average rating in Consumer Reports’ reliability survey, leading the organization to restore endorsements it revoked from the Model 3 in February and the Model S a year ago. Five of General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s brands placed among the 10 worst in the survey, which was again dominated by Japanese and Korean carmakers.

Consumer Reports’ fluctuating views of Tesla’s sedans reflect the company’s frequent design changes and rush to ramp up production, according to Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing. The Model X still scores among the least reliable in the survey, leaving the electric-car maker’s brand ranking 23rd out of 30.

“We recommend the Model 3 with a caveat,” Fisher said in an interview. “I don’t know what will happen in the next six or 12 months because the car keeps changing, so results may vary.”

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Reliability issues for established automakers including GM and Volkswagen AG frequently relate to their new vehicles offering technologically advanced features for the first time, such as touchscreen infotainment and driver-assistance systems.

“GM really has consistently had problems with new model launches as they add new technology, and it was across the board for their vehicles,” Fisher said. Three of its four brands finished in the bottom 10, with Cadillac finishing dead last, thanks in part to a troublesome infotainment system. VW’s namesake fell nine spots to 27th, and its luxury brand Audi slipped seven places to 14th.

Buick, the only GM brand to finish around the middle of the pack, fell five spots to 18th. Chevrolet ranked 25th, with some of its highest-volume models — the Chevy Colorado mid-size pickup and Silverado full-size truck — scoring poorly.

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Chevy’s Silverado rated 20 on a 100-point scale, matching Ford’s F-150 and narrowly beating the Ram pickup’s 18. The overall Ford brand ranking was unchanged from a year ago, at 16th.

GM is having trouble with the drive system and in-vehicle electronics on the new Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups. That’s problematic especially since the new trucks underwent modest changes and have disappointed Consumer Reports’ test drivers. GM probably took a conservative approach to engineering the new trucks because the previous-generation Silverado and Sierra had reliability issues, Fisher said.

For GM, improvement is a must. The Silverado and Sierra are among its most profitable vehicles, and the automaker has been fending off a challenge from Fiat Chrysler’s Ram, which has gained market share at Chevy’s expense. There’s also more competition on the way: Tesla plans to show off an electric truck on Nov. 21. The pickup, which Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk has said is inspired by the sci-fi film “Blade Runner,” will try to crack Detroit’s profit center along with another electric upstart, Amazon.com Inc.-backed Rivian Automotive Inc.

Asian brands fared best in the study. Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus luxury line again took top honors, its namesake brand finished third, and Japanese partner Mazda was sandwiched in between. The best vehicle in the study was the Lexus IS sedan, with a score of 99.

The Genesis luxury brand from South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co. placed fifth, and the company’s namesake line finished in sixth. Among European brands, only Porsche and Mini were in the top 10.

Tesla’s Model 3 was initially recommended by Consumer Reports in 2018 because the early models fared well in terms of customer satisfaction and reliability was initially good enough. Tesla made a lot of changes to the car that year, including adding more comfortable seating and improving the suspension to soften the ride. But some tweaks brought about glitches that cost the car the group’s blessing.

In the past year, Tesla has fixed many of those problems, and its two sedans have risen in the rankings. Fisher spoke with Musk after the Model 3 lost its recommendation last year and said the CEO was eager to hear what owners were complaining about.

“He wanted the feedback,” Fisher said. “He wants to build the best cars in the world.”


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