Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that the Model 3 would be getting an update after Consumer Reports said it found some “big flaws” in the electric car’s braking and “difficult-to-use” touchscreen. In response, the publication released a statement praising Tesla for taking its criticisms seriously.
In its review published on Monday, CR said there was “plenty to like” about the Model 3, but that it ultimately couldn’t recommend the vehicle due to a shockingly long stopping distance during emergency braking tests. “The Tesla’s stopping distance of 152 feet from 60 mph was far worse than any contemporary car we’ve tested and about 7 feet longer than the stopping distance of a Ford F-150 full-sized pickup,” CR wrote.
And as he’s wont to do, Musk aired his displeasure with the CR report in a series of Monday evening tweets. At first, he called the story “very strange,” while speculating it could be easily fixed through an over-the-air software update. He also called into question the publication’s testing methods, specifically in the emergency braking tests. And he claimed that CR had conducted its tests with an “early production model” of the Model 3 and would request the publication try again with a newer version. (We asked a Tesla spokesperson to clarify Musk’s comments, and will publish the reply when we get it.)
CR also took issue with Tesla’s decision to eschew traditional buttons and gauges in favor of a giant touchscreen. Everything from adjusting the sideview mirrors to the airflow of the heating and air conditioning is controlled through the touchscreen, a fact the CR testers found distracting and dangerous. “These types of complex interactions with a touch screen can cause driver distraction because each act forces drivers to take their eyes off the road and a hand off the steering wheel.”
For its part, CR said it obtained a second Model 3 after noticing some inconsistencies in its braking tests, but got “almost identical results.” In a statement following Musk’s tweets, the publication’s director of auto testing, Jake Fisher, said they’d be happy to retest the Model 3’s braking performance after a firmware update.
“CR is pleased that Tesla is taking our braking test results seriously,” Fisher said. “That they are committed to implementing a fix and improving stopping distances on the Model 3 is good for everyone on the road. Our goal as a nonprofit membership organization is to create a fairer, safer world with and for consumers. That means better and safer products for all. If Tesla can update the brakes over the air — an industry first — we’d be happy to retest our Model 3.”
Of course, Tesla fans on Twitter were less than impressed with CR’s findings about their favorite electric carmaker. Some accused the rating publication of “shilling” for traditional automakers.
For anyone tracking Tesla’s relationship with Consumer Reports over the years, it’s been a rollercoaster ride. Back in 2015, the publication broke its own rating system in its effusive praise of the Model S P85D. But that love affair started going south almost immediately when it surveyed about 1,400 Tesla owners and used that data to project a “worse-than-average overall problem rate” for new buyers over the lifespan of the vehicle. As a result, it pulled its coveted “recommended” rating for the Model S.
Later, Tesla’s Model X was ranked near the bottom for “vehicle reliability,” with CR knocking the electric SUV for “abundant problems, including frequent malfunctions of the falcon-wing doors, water leaks, and infotainment and climate-control system problems.”
Last year, Tesla was able to climb back up CR’s vehicle ratings after the electric automaker updated its software to add automatic emergency braking to its new sedans and SUVs. The publication restored only one of the two points it docked Tesla because the updated braking system doesn’t work at highway speeds.
While Musk has been known to rail against the media for what he feels is unfair coverage of his company, it’s clear that the nonprofit CR has a way of provoking a special kind of response from the billionaire. As traditional automakers have discovered, the publication’s rigorous testing and willingness to show its work make it more difficult to dismiss its reports as inaccurate or biased. Which is not to say that Musk and his fans are welcome to continue to try.