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Published on June 29th, 2020 | by Jesper Berggreen

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More Context On J.D. Power Rating Tesla As Lowest Quality Auto Brand In 2020 Study

June 29th, 2020 by  


It’s all over the news: It has finally been proven that Teslas are no good! Well, let’s put it this way: the evidence is circumstantial. This comes as no surprise to me, since I already told you about how customers feel about Tesla based on the largest Danish car owner satisfaction report, but before we continue on this topic, let’s not get carried away and forget about Consumer Reports giving very enthusiastic ratings to Tesla vehicles and publishing market-leading customer ratings over the years. Just, you know, to start on a positive note.

The 34th Year Of The J.D. Power 2020 Initial Quality Study (IQS)

J.D. Power released a new Initial Quality Study report on June 24th, 2020, in which Tesla is profiled for the first time. Tesla receives an initial quality score of “250 PP100” (Problems Per 100), which means that for 100 new owners, a total of 250 problems where reported within the first 90 days of ownership.

Tesla is not officially ranked among other brands in the study, as it doesn’t meet ranking criteria. Doug Betts, president of the automotive division at J.D. Power, explains: “Unlike other manufacturers, Tesla doesn’t grant us permission to survey its owners in 15 states where it is required. However, we were able to collect a large enough sample of surveys from owners in the other 35 states and, from that base, we calculated Tesla’s score.”

It’s not clear why Tesla would not grant permission in those 15 states, including California, but I would have to assume it has something to do with customer integrity, because I don’t see how any customer data would not be of tremendous value for Tesla, assuming it wants to improve overall.

Here are the top 5 and lowest 5 rankings as reported by owners in the J.D. Power rating, showing the number of problems per 100 vehicles:

Top 5 (least problems per 100 vehicles)

  1. Dodge (136 PP100)
  2. Kia (136 PP100)
  3. Chevrolet (141 PP100)
  4. Ram (141 PP100)
  5. Genesis (142 PP100)

Lowest 5 (most problems per 100 vehicles)

  • Mercedes-Benz (202 PP100)
  • Volvo (210 PP100)
  • Audi (225 PP100)
  • Land Rover (228 PP100)
  • Tesla (250 PP100)

And here’s a fun list to consider while pondering on how those premium brands ended up at the bottom:

Age of the “lowest quality” brands

  • Mercedes-Benz (94 years)
  • Volvo (93 years)
  • Audi (110 years)
  • Land Rover (72 years — with Rover actually being 142 years old)
  • Tesla (17 years)

Data Is Data & Opinions Are Opinions

USA Today, June 24th: “In Tesla’s case, though, problems included paint defects, poor fit of body panels, trunks and hoods that were hard to open and close, too much wind noise in the interior, squeaks and rattles.”

The Verge, June 25th: “Concerns that Musk has prioritized quantity over quality are a recurring theme for Tesla, that have recently been extended to the Model Y. The data collected by JD Power bears this out.”

CNN, June 25th: “J.D. Power released its annual quality study and it’s terrible news for Tesla, which ranked dead last among the 32 automotive brands it measured.”

ArsTechnica, June 24th: “2020 is the first year that Tesla has been included in the survey, and as readers of our recent story on Model Y problems might have guessed, things don’t look great for the California-based electric car company.”

Ouch! Or not. … As a Tesla owner, I thought I would try to nuance this a little bit. The survey is not objectively inaccurate, but it’s not entirely useful either, due to missing detailed data. You need all the data, but it’s not available from J.D. Power, so we can only guess what this all means.

I, for one, had my share of problems, but before I list some of them here, I just want to point out that I was not entirely surprised to experience problems with such a young brand, and all problems have been fixed, and my car gets better all the time.

  1. I got my whole drivetrain replaced even before delivery, because the final staff test drive of my car revealed a strange high-pitched noise at full acceleration. They did not want to take any chance, or maybe their procedures specifically forced them to not take any chances — either way, it was the right thing to do. Yes, it was painful to have my delivery postponed, and knowing that the car had been repaired even before I got it took some time to accept.
  2. A piece of plastic broke off of the left rearview mirror, and was swiftly replaced.
  3. A couple of dents in roof interior cladding took 6 months and a couple of tries to get rid of completely.
  4. The turn signal stalk developed a loose electrical connection, and was swiftly replaced.

That’s all in the first approximately 9 months and 30,000 km (19,000 miles), but am I an unsatisfied customer? Not at all!

A Word From A Really Smart Analyst Would Be In Order

Anyway, my opinion on the matter is so insignificant that I should stop wasting your time and hand you over to someone who is really good at seeing through this ambivalent news of Tesla supposedly being the mother of bad quality. What does that even mean? And how in the world did Mercedes-Benz and Audi wind up together with Tesla at the low end of that ranking?

Rob Maurer of the Tesla Daily podcast has some great insights into this, and I highly recommend hearing his take on it all in this episode (starts at 6:20):

There are a couple of important takeaways here, like the fact that J.D. Power’s IQS does not differentiate between a problem that is the result of a physical fault or a design issue in which everything works as intended but the learning curve might be too steep. Infotainment is the source of more than a quarter of all problems, and as Rob Maurer correctly points out, the more functionality there is, the more areas there are to report problems for.

Dave Sargent, vice president of Automotive Quality at J.D. Power, states in a Yahoo! finance clip in the video that it’s only a problem for some customers and that most people actually want this many advanced features but have difficulty using them, partly because it’s the first time they experienced such advanced features.

Precisely. Now, as Rob Maurer asks rhetorically, can we think of a car company that has so many exceptionally advanced features? And, I might add, features that the majority of owners have not experienced before? I can think of only one …

For any manufacturers, all information from owners’ problems, whether they be based on faults or how the systems were intended to be used, is a gold mine! Tesla, in particular, is all about fast iteration of problem correction, especially on the software side, which is where the real money is, by the way.

And one last somewhat provocative opinion from myself: Tesla is production constrained. It can’t keep up with demand. Hence the low priority on minor hardware-quality issues. Low-hanging fruit will be addressed later. When Tesla vehicles are almost all flawless when they get into the hands of their new owners, demand has dropped. Just saying …

Photos by Jesper Berggreen. 

Feel free to use my referral code (or anybody else’s) when you buy a Tesla in order to get some free Supercharger miles: jesper18367. 


 

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About the Author

Jesper had his perspective on the world expanded vastly after having attended primary school in rural Africa in the early 1980s. And while educated a computer programmer and laboratory technician, working with computers and lab-robots at the institute of forensic medicine in Aarhus, Denmark, he never forgets what life is like having nothing. Thus it became obvious for him that technological advancement is necessary for the prosperity of all humankind, sharing this one vessel we call planet earth. However, technology has to be smart, clean, sustainable, widely accessible, and democratic in order to change the world for the better. Writing about clean energy, electric transportation, energy poverty, and related issues, he gets the message through to anyone who wants to know better. Jesper is founder of Lifelike.dk and a long-term investor in Tesla, Ørsted, and Vestas.



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