Consumer Reports has released their latest reliability rating for the Model S, upgrading its rating from “average” to “above average.”  This is the first time Tesla has received an “above average” rating from Consumer Reports.

In the same article, Consumer Reports also mentions their “predicted reliability” for the Model 3.  They give these ratings out based on previous experience with a manufacturer and whether a new model is a significant departure from previous models – and this is not unique to Tesla, they give predicted reliability scores to other cars too.  Since the Model 3 doesn’t share many parts with the Model S but is expected to be less complex, and since Tesla has had difficulties with reliability of early VINs before, Consumer Reports is taking the middle ground as far as predictions go and predicts average reliability out of the Model 3.  They will not have an actual rating until owners have time to report back with their real-life experiences.

Consumer Reports has changed their reliability ratings multiple times on the Model S.  Originally, Model S reliability was “average,” then temporarily dropped to “below average” when Tesla had a batch of drive unit failures which prompted service trips for many owners.  The repair was relatively easy and most cars would be turned around in a day or less, but nevertheless the number of service visits from owners was too high for CR’s scale, and this bumped the Model S down in reliability.

This forced CR to rescind their “recommended” label, despite them having rated Model S as the “best car ever” and Tesla consistently topping owner satisfaction ratings.  Once Tesla worked out the drive unit issues, CR’s rating went back up to average, which has been improved upon today.

With Model X receiving “below average” reliability due to early unit problems with doors and the large windshield (but no significant powertrain problems) – many of which Tesla says they’ve fixed – Model S’ “above average” rating marks the first time Tesla has received this score from CR.  And it shows that Tesla is improving in reliability as a company, and the Model S is improving in reliability as a car.

This upward momentum “shows promise” for the Model 3’s predicted reliability rating, giving them “more confidence in the Tesla Model 3.”

Consumer Reports is careful to qualify their claims about the future reliability of the Model 3.  They distinguish between actual ratings from customer experience and predicted ratings based on the manufacturer and newness of the model, and talk about the company’s history and previous statements about the car.

On the one hand, all car models tend to have more problems with reliability on early VINs than late VINs, and Tesla is no exception to this.  On the other hand, Model 3 is expected to be less complex than Model S and much less complex than Model X, and Tesla’s reliability as a whole seems to be improving.

Nevertheless, CR decided to bunt this one and default to a predicted “average” reliability for the Model 3, which is the minimum required to achieve CR’s “recommended” mark.  Of course, Consumer Reports has not owned a car nor have their members reported on the Model 3 in the annual reliability survey, so this is all guesswork so far, and will be updated next year when owners have had their hands on the vehicle for a while.

Tesla commented on Consumer Reports’ Model 3 rating:

“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. Time and time again, our own data shows that Consumer Reports’ automotive reporting is consistently inaccurate and misleading to consumers.”

Electrek’s Take

Improving Model S reliability ratings are great news but not unexpected as Tesla grows into a more mature manufacturer.  They’re also critical given that Tesla is on the verge of becoming a much larger company, which means there will be a lot more cars to service, so it’s important that those cars have fewer problems to fill the hundreds of new service centers and mobile service trucks Tesla is adding.

As for the Model 3 rating, it seems fair, given the caveats that owners haven’t had time to report back for CR’s “annual reliability survey” which they base these scores on (for which surveys go out in April).  It would be unreasonable for CR to expect a new model with mostly new parts from a relatively new manufacturer to be “above average” in reliability, regardless of how many company statements have been made about simplifying production processes, and given the upward momentum Tesla has, it would also be unreasonable to expect a simpler car to be “below average.”

The reaction to CR’s article on this brings up another point – often other outlets tend to dilute CR’s message and change it to something other than what it is.  Their article seems quite positive on the Model S and Model 3, and in general, they obviously love the Model S, giving it their highest score ever (and even rating it in the first place, as CR doesn’t always rate cars in the Model S’ price bracket).

But many others who have covered this story have run with Model 3 as the headline and have put a negative spin on Model 3’s predicted “average” rating, so much so that a Tesla spokesperson reacted calling CR “inaccurate” and “misleading” for rating a car which is not yet out – which seems a strong reaction to a mostly positive report.

While it’s true that it’s a bit silly to rate cars without the extensive customer data that CR is known for, it is probably still positive for manufacturers as early sales of a new product are critical in driving continued popularity of that product.  Some customers may refuse to buy a product before it’s been rated, but this is obviously impossible for CR to do at this point, especially with their methodology of buying anonymously instead of getting cars directly from the marketing arm of a manufacturer.  And CR goes to great lengths to qualify their expectations and give their reasoning.

But this “average” predicted score for the Model 3 could also dissuade some customers from the Model 3 because it seems lower than the Model S.  However, it should be noted that reliability ratings are generally done on a per-class basis, and comparing an established model to a new model is a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison anyway.  As happened with the Model S, it’s likely that the Model 3 will become more reliable as more units are built and any kinks are worked out.

So while this predicted rating is just a guess, and it’s best to treat it as such, it seems like a fair guess. Just remember that it’s a guess.