There was much gnashing of teeth, especially by the Teslaphiles, this week as it was reported the Tesla Motors brand came in dead last in the just-released 2020 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study. (See: J.D. Power Report Scores Tesla A Dismal Last Yet Tesla Owners Love Their Cars.) Certainly, the world might seem upside down when a tech darling like Tesla Motors is last on a quality list from a well-respected market researcher that ranks Dodge and Kia in a tie for number one.
But, as with many things these days, a bit of perspective and clear thinking is in order. First, Tesla Motors was not officially ranked in the J.D. Power study that is based on the responses of 87,282 purchasers and lessees of new 2020 model-year vehicles who were surveyed after 90 days of ownership. For reasons known only to the officials at Tesla, the brand was the single one in the survey that failed to give the research firm permission to send questionnaires to its owners in the 15 states where that permission is required.
So, as J.D. Power officials duly noted, the problems per 100 vehicles number quoted in the firm’s report on the study did not officially place Tesla last. Tesla isn’t officially in the study
J.D. Power’s Doug Betts, president of the automotive division, did note, “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.”
David Sargent, J.P Power’s VP automotive, repeated that very clearly when he offered commentary on the study in the firm’s webinar on the subject Wednesday, and he was equally clear on the subject with me when I interviewed him yesterday. He was also very clear that Tesla owners love their cars and predicted that Tesla would fare much better — though unofficially better — in the upcoming J.D. Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study. That study, Sargent said, measures “Americans love affair with their cars,” and by both objective and subjective measures, Tesla owners exhibit plenty of that
But beyond the question of whether Tesla was officially last in the study or not — and the correct answer is “not” — the suggestion that Tesla’s product problems were mostly the result of its advanced technology and the inherent “bugginess” of leading-edge computers is just not true.
Yes, many problems reported by owners regarding their vehicles built by mainstream carmakers were technology-induced. Overly complicated infotainment systems and driver-assist systems that are more an irritant than an assistant seem all-too-prevalent in the industry.
But as Sargent told me, Tesla Motors’ problems resolved more around basic blocking-and-tackling types of issues like panel fit and paint quality rather than issues with the brand’s computerized operating systems and avant garde information displays and controls.
“Tesla is having trouble in areas that other carmakers have already figured out,” Sargent said.
Dodge, founded by Horace Elgin Dodge and his brother John Francis Dodge more than 100 years ago, has not only cracked that genetic code but it has also discovered a way to design and assemble infotainment systems that typical car drivers can use without consulting engineering diagrams. So has Kia Motors, a relative latecomer to the American market … and to car manufacturing in general. Kia Motors fit-and-finish is exemplary, and its technology, by and large, is utterly user-friendly.
For all the teeth-grinding that has accompanied Tesla’s poor showing in initial quality, it has august company at the nether regions of the rankings. The bottom five in IQS, in descending order, are Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Audi, and Land Rover. Nobody is saying those brands offer bad vehicles, nor does anyone suggest Tesla Motors is doing that.
(Unofficially) Tesla seems to have some work to do to fix the things that other, more experienced auto manufacturers have already learned how to fix. I imagine Elon Musk knows that, and he might even admit it. Tesla vehicles are typically beloved by their owners, and they are a delight to drive. But they aren’t perfect. And to compete effectively in an increasingly competitive electric vehicle portion of the overall market, they need to get better.