In response to Consumer Reports’ first review of the Model 3, and our article about issues they had in their braking tests, Tesla CEO Elon Musk swiftly promised that if an issue is found with Model 3 braking, it would be fixed at no cost to owners, even if a physical upgrade is required.
Just a few hours later, Musk gave us another update: Tesla seems to have isolated Model 3 braking issues to calibration of the anti-lock braking system. Thankfully, this is solvable through a firmware update, and Musk promised one in the coming days.
It should be noted that these braking issues are more a matter of braking inconsistency than poor all-around braking performance. In other reviews, including in Consumer Reports’ first attempt to test the car, the Model 3 had typical-to-good braking performance for a car of its vehicle class.
Inconsistent braking is still concerning though, because if there’s any part of a car you want to be absolutely, 100% predictable, it’s the brakes. It would perhaps be better than the Model 3 having irredeemably bad braking performance all the time, but still bad news.
What Consumer Reports found was that on repeated tests, even after giving the brakes a chance to cool, the Model 3 experienced significantly higher stopping distances than it should have.
In some late night tweets, Musk responded to our article with a discussion of the issue and solution:
Consumer Reports did mention that they tested another owner’s vehicle and found inconsistent braking on it as well, so this clearly wasn’t an issue with just their vehicle which is why Tesla has looked into it and found this fix.
Musk also added a little more about Consumer Reports’ car, which may be experiencing issues that are not typical to current production Model 3s:
Cars often get better through small improvements as a vehicle line matures, such that some buyers will avoid purchasing a new car model in its first model year. In Tesla’s case, this is no different. It’s possible that Consumer Reports’ car, being early production, suffered from some inconsistency that newer cars don’t have, or perhaps that there are some issues with it which could be fixed by Tesla service.
We do not know their car’s VIN however, nor is it clear how Musk knows how early their car is since CR attempts to purchase cars anonymously. CR also did not mention whether the other owner’s vehicle they tested was early production, nor whether it was tested for ride quality or wind noise in the same way as their own vehicle was.
Much has been made of the “feud” between Consumer Reports and Tesla, with many Tesla fans taking issue with any negative thing CR says about the cars – including some of the comments left on our article yesterday.
However, I’ve never taken much issue with them myself nor seen the need for pitchforks. Every once in a while they say something bizarre, and they seem to love milking the increased visibility they get from their Tesla articles (but who doesn’t?), but for the most part I find them to be one of the more objective reviewers out there.
That said, they have a certain “old-school” mentality which I don’t think serves them when reviewing electric cars. Their complaints about the touchscreen interface, for example, bewilder me. As I wrote in my Model 3 review, the touchscreen interface is the best I’ve ever encountered in a car, by far. Every interface in every other car is much more laggy and arcane.
The problem CR has with it is simply that all the controls are on the screen – fair enough. But without taking into account the reasoning behind this (that the car is meant for self-driving, that this allows software updates for UI changes which aren’t possible with physical buttons, etc.), I think complaining about the screen is a little silly. Besides, all of us have smartphones now despite the lack of physical buttons, and I don’t hear too many people who desperately want to go back on that front.
Consumer Reports’ complaints about ride quality make sense, but may be out of date. Ride quality in my car is not as good as I’d like – but this is an artifact of it being an early production car, much like CR’s. Tesla has since updated the suspension components, and will be installing the update for free on older vehicles While I don’t know if CR’s car had the updates or not, nor whether the update makes a huge difference (I’ll find out soon when it’s installed), this is possibly the source of that complaint.
Wind noise complaints however are completely mind-boggling to me. None of us here at Electrek, all of whom have extensive experience behind the wheel of Tesla vehicles and other EVs, find the Model 3 particularly noisy, even when compared to the more expensive Model S.
But overall CR liked the Model 3’s driving dynamics, which I find are its main strength. I don’t see how anyone can dislike driving this car. So, take their response to the touchscreen for what it’s worth (some will like it, some won’t, and that’s fine), install the updates to suspension and braking, and all of a sudden there’s less to complain about.
The one concerning note here is that, if this braking fix was so simple to isolate, why wasn’t it found sooner? Surely Tesla does repeated tests of the car on various surfaces, and ABS control is such a standard thing on cars for decades now that it seems like it should be a “solved problem” by now.
Perhaps there’s something weird happening here and this is one of those rare “corner cases” that doesn’t affect typical driving and only pops up after lots of people have had lots of chances to test the car, like some other recalls.
Thankfully, this is the strength of a car which can be updated over the air, where if a problem is solvable through software, it can happen with little to no cost in time or money for the user or the manufacturer. The swiftness of this response is also quite remarkable, with a fix coming to all owners just days after the problem was isolated – this would never happen for a physical recall.
Though as typical for Tesla, early owners get what could be uncharitably described as an incomplete car, and Tesla then takes feedback from these owners and ends up making the cars better.
While it would probably be preferable for cars to be shipped complete and perfect, in the real world there are imperfections in every product, particularly in early production. Because of this, automotive recalls are a common occurrence, and when they happen they are expensive and a waste of time for everyone involved. When problems can be fixed with software tweaks, sending one out over the air is obviously the superior solution. Nobody should have to use a USB stick to install software updates anymore.
And this incident does also show one of the strengths of Consumer Reports’ testing methodology. They were able to point out a problem which many other reviewers and owners have missed, and Tesla was able to find and fix the problem. We may take issue with their occasionally old fashioned take on user interfaces, but if it helps makes the products we use better, then that’s a good thing isn’t it?