Tesla Model 3 updates coming after Consumer Reports found ‘big flaws’

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

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.

Comments

This just goes to prove that we will always need consumer watchdogs like Consumer Reports and you shouldn’t believe the hype, even if it comes from Elon Musk.

Check out Edmunds last entry its pretty horrific – I like the stereo turning itself on full blast with the car off and nobody inside the best: https://www.edmunds.com/tesla/model-3/2017/long-term-road-test/2017-tesla-model-3-monthly-update-for-april-2018.html

That said, this was an early model 3 so most of this is gone now – but yikes!

That made me so happy.

Aouch. That hurts.

Wait how can you update the brakes over the air? Is the software update like going to tell the car to brake harder? Maybe I am just use to the traditional way cars worked, where one needed at the very least better pads to help the car stop better/more constantly. Is that going to be part of the equation here? A comparable car like the BMW 3 series or even a Toyota Camry are in the 115-120 feet range(depending on model & options) from 60-0, which about a 30 feet difference. I think the current gen Volt and Bolt are around 120 feet also, with the i3 at 110(both old and refreshed model).

basically, yes. most, if not all, modern cars use computer controls for functions like throttle and braking…an update could indeed change how hard the car’s pads are pressed against the rotors.

Since Teslas are EVs, they probably have some complex brake regen system, and I’m guessing that the handoff from "brake gently while regenerating energy" to "holy $#!T brake as hard as possible!" is probably to blame for this? Just a guess.

While it’s possible a software update could improve braking, it can’t improve it beyond what the mechanical system will allow. And if it’s so easy to fix it, it begs the question – why didn’t they fix it before it shipped?

I’m sure they performed some basic cost/benefit of wear vs braking distance and landed somewhere a bit conservative. An ota update could push this in favor of braking distance at the (hopefully slight) cost of longevity simply by increasing pressure.

I’m sorry, but shipping a car that has literally the WORST braking time of any car tested – worse even than a huge, dumb pickup truck – is completely unacceptable, regardless of what their BS cost/benefit analysis showed. People could DIE.

Your caps lock key is faulty again.

It works fine, although I didn’t even use it to write that post.

I’m sure they performed some basic cost/benefit of wear vs braking distance and landed somewhere a bit conservative.

Then they should have said so, the fact that Musk immediately says they can fix this suggests it’s a fault and not a feature.

That is nonsense and not how regenerative braking systems work. Contrary to vacuum based friction braking systems, an RBS uses the generators force to generate electricity, and that force is slowing down the car.
However, the more pressure one applies to the braking pedal, the more force will be applied from the friction based system. So there is no "handoff " scenario.

However, if Tesla is not building their own ECU (engine control unit) for their regenerative braking system (which I really hope they don’t), they use something from Bosch or some of the other 3 manufacturers of such systems. And those systems are used in several other car models and work without a glitch, especially since the braking scenario CR tests is that of a full emergency braking. And in that scenario the RBS is basically off because the necessary force would not be enough. The only system that is affected will be ABS and therefore maximum pressure is applied, enough to just not have the wheels blocking.

So sorry to say, but either Tesla uses some miraculous self engineered system (please lord not) or they use something from Bosch etc….and those things are not updated OTA.
Bad braking ratings usually come from 2 factors: bad tires or too small brakes.
It will be interesting to see which is the culprit.

Tesla likely do build their own. Vertical integration is the aim of the game for Tesla and Musks companies in general.

That is a horrible scenario for many reasons and I don’t think they really do. Why would one want to build their own ABS or ESP ecu? The cost involved compared to what you might gain would e ridiculous. There is a reason why there isn’t a single mass manufacturer of cars that has a fully integrated internal supply chain.

If they do, congrats on screwing up the braking system. Let’s hope the steering works better……

ECU? Engine? MCU maybe? Pretty sure a company that is working on building a self driving car looks at ABS as a minor annoyance.

Eventually it becomes cheaper making everything in house, its the single best way of maximizing profit without increasing prices for the end product. See Samsung and their smartphones for example.

Electric cars can and most of the time break with the motor by basically reversing the engine. It’s called electromagnetic brake or more recently regenerative braking.( Braking produce energy, it’s used in Prius or electric cars) Thus this can be tuned and modified easily by computer control since an electrical motor is really easy to control… Electrically.

In the type of emergency braking that CR tested, most of the braking comes from the friction brakes, not the electric motor. As soon as you remove your foot from the accelerator, the motor begins regenerative braking, but that only slows the vehicle, and it doesn’t work at all if the battery is full, or under 5 mph. The motors aren’t the primary braking system, the friction brakes are.

They’re in the new leaf. I’m surprised it is not the case for model 3

Tesla may be able to fix the brakes on the Model 3 with a firmware update, but fixing the ergonomic shortcomings of the car’s controls will require a whole new approach to the car’s interior. The long and short of it is: any controls that make you take your eyes off the road for more than a second or two greatly increase your risk of an accident. Tactile knobs and switches=good; non-tactile touchscreen panel=bad.

Since I’ve owned my Model 3 Tesla has already improved the UI twice to make it easier to use – once by enabling speed control on a steering wheel roller, and second by tweaking the audio system UI. What distraction is added by finding buttons visually (yes, this is inferior) is more than made up for by the driving aids adaptive cruise control, and autopilot.

I think it will get better as Tesla enables owners to customize the two 5 way steering wheel rollers to control the features they personally use the most without taking their eyes off the road.

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