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Tesla ranks dead last in latest auto quality survey

Tesla owners reported an average of 250 problems per 100 vehicles.
Image: Tesla auto quality
Newly manufactured Tesla electric cars in a storage area at The Western Docks in Southampton, England, earlier this year.Adrian Dennis / AFP - Getty Images file

Dodge became the first U.S. brand to nab the number one spot in the latest annual quality survey from J.D. Power — with Tesla ranking dead last.

The California-based automaker scored worst out of all 32 brands covered by the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, which measures the problems motorists face during the first 90 days of ownership. With an average 250 problems per 100 vehicles — or 250 PP100, as Power terms it — its owners reported nearly twice as many issues as did those buying Dodge models.

That poor showing echoes widespread concern about quality problems that have long nagged Tesla, and comes as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed it is investigating a problem that can cause the touchscreens on 63,000 Model S sedans to fail. Those screens are used to operate a variety of vehicle functions, including climate control.

The electric vehicle maker’s newest product line, the Model Y SUV, has come under particularly harsh criticism, with reports on Tesla owner forums and in EV websites pointing to a long list of problems including defective paint, misfitting exterior trim and faulty rear seats that may not fold, as expected, and, in some cases, which have not even been bolted into place.

Website Elektrek earlier this month reported that some Tesla customers, including a couple in Maryland, declined to take delivery of one of the Model Y SUVs because of readily apparent and “significant defects.”

Paint problems have been an issue from the automaker since it began producing the Model S, its first mass-market EV, said independent auto Anton Wahlman. “It’s no surprise that since they’re using the same paint shop as the Models S, X and 3 that there’d be continuing paint problems” with the Model Y.

For his part, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has acknowledged quality issues on a number of occasions. He warned of “production hell” as the company began ramping up its Fremont, California, assembly line to handle the Model 3 sedan in 2018. And he acknowledged the need to make “rectifications” to problems with the new Model Y earlier this year. That has translated into extensive repair work for many vehicles after they come off the Fremont line.

Meanwhile, Tesla recently announced it would make its “All Weather Protection Kit” available for free to owners of several different product in cold climates where paint problems have been more severe.

For its part, J.D. Power put an asterisk on the 2020 results for Tesla. The automaker has long resisted cooperating with outside quality arbiters.

“Unlike other manufacturers, Tesla doesn’t grant us permission to survey its owners in 15 states where it is required,” said Doug Betts, president of the automotive division at J.D. Power. “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.”

Tesla has not responded to several requests for comment on the results of the 2020 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study.

While the EV automaker might have anchored the bottom of the new quality report, the picture was quite different for traditional Detroit automakers.

In a stunning turnaround, the Dodge brand, long a quality laggard, surged to take the top spot, tying with Kia, while toppling traditional benchmarks including South Korea’s Genesis, Japan’s Lexus and Germany’s Porsche.

It was the first time a Detroit automaker led the IQS in its 34 years, noted Power, adding that domestic brands are, on the whole, now ranking above industry average.

“Collectively, this is the best-ever performance by the Detroit automakers in the history of the study,” Power said.

On the other hand, premium brands fared surprisingly poorly. While Genesis and Lexus came in above industry average, the lowest ranked brands, in descending order, were Jaguar, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Audi, Land Rover and Tesla.