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Is Tesla Motors, Inc. Teaching Mercedes-Benz a Lesson on Making Reliable Cars?

By Daniel Sparks - Oct 30, 2014 at 4:19PM

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"Consumer Reports" is out with a new report about Tesla's all-electric sedan.

Model S interior. Source: Tesla Motors.

Consumer Reports is out with a new report that includes some mad props for Tesla Motors(TSLA -0.60%) all-electric sedan. Not only is the reliability for the Model S improving, but the young auto manufacturer is one-upping its older and more experienced peers. Here's what you need to know.

Average, but better than key competition
Overall, Tesla's Model S is Consumer Reports' top-scoring car. The luxury sedan garnered a wild score of 99 out of 100 from Consumer Reports' own judges, and a 99 out of 100 in the rating agency's owner survey. But as Consumer Reports explains in a new report, this doesn't mean it's the most reliable car. In fact, CR only gives the Model S an "average" reliability score.

A bit of perspective, however, from the latest update on the Model S shows that an average reliability score is still an achievement.

Model S. Source: Tesla Motors.

"In the grand scheme of things, an average score, while not impressive, isn't terrible either," said Consumer Reports' Gabe Shenhar. "Lots of high-end cars have an average score, including, for instance, the Acura RLX. A few, largely from Lexus and Audi, are outstanding, but many, such as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Cadillac XTS, are far worse."

Tesla is cracking down on quality control
Consumer Reports' tone toward the reliability of the Model S has shifted dramatically. In August, Shenhar wrote: "Given the number of bits and pieces Tesla has replaced on our car, it might be tempting to guess that its reliability score will go down. The reality is, it might." The decision, he said, would be based on "the frequency and severity of problems reported by our subscribers and whether they show that reliability is below average."

But Shenhar's guess was off-base. As it turns out, reliability for the Model S is actually improving. "Tesla has been aggressively updating and redesigning parts to improve reliability," Shenhar explained in a short video outlining the new reliability report. "This is evident in our data, with newer Model S's proving more reliable."

The front trunk in a Model S. Tesla cites "at least a thousand fewer moving parts than a traditional car" as one of the key advantages of the maintenance profile on its fully electric vehicles. Image source: Tesla Motors.

Amid a report from Edmunds.com earlier this year that cited frequent drive-unit replacements for the Model S, and Consumer Reports' own prediction of a decline in reliability, quality control was a hot topic in Tesla's last earnings call. After the company provided helpful perspective on drive unit replacements, and ensured investors that it was aggressively taking action to improve the quality of build for its vehicles, the concern faded into the background.

Considering Tesla's progress on quality control to date as a young automaker, and the advantages that CEO Elon Musk asserts its electric cars will eventually have over traditional vehicles in achieving a lower maintenance profile, Tesla competitors may be wise to lean in and learn a thing or two from the California-based company.

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