But when Consumer Reports opened its mouth about Tesla's Model 3 sedan, Musk listened. He quickly went to work to resolve the issues the 82-year-old group raised with the latest Tesla model. The response was notable for its swiftness, and it spoke volumes about Consumer Reports' influence.
Judging by what many have said about the Yonkers, New York-based company, Musk may not have had much of a choice but to address its concerns. Since it was founded in 1936, the group's thorough evaluations of cars and other products have been an indispensable guide for generations of consumers.
That reputation persists despite a growing number of rival automotive reviewers, testers and publications in the world, and a declining subscriber base. Much of its reputation hinges on it doing things no other reviewer does. It is a nonprofit organization that secretly buys cars like ordinary customers and has a history of eschewing any form of advertising or other entanglements that could appear to compromise its impartiality. Many of its staff members have backgrounds in engineering and have worked for automakers or suppliers.
Automakers have sued the group, and executives have lashed out over negative reviews. At least one distributor has gone so far as to claim in court that a bad review of a car had demonstrably hurt sales. But that has had little impact on the group. Even in an increasingly competitive media landscape filled with review sites, blogs and other outlets — some of which are formidable competitors — Consumer Reports still manages to ruffle feathers.
On May 21 the group said it could not recommend the Tesla Model 3. Musk didn't publicly disparage the group. Instead, he took the feedback and said on Twitter that the issue could be remedied with a remote update to the firmware on every Model 3 on the road.
The chief concern was the Model 3's long stopping distance. The car took 152 feet to come to a full stop from 60 miles per hour, far more than any contemporary sedan and even 7 more feet than the Ford F-150, a full-size pickup.
Tesla said the Model 3 had 450,000 reservations at the end of its first quarter of 2018, and the car has garnered praise from numerous outlets. But a bad review from Consumer Reports on such a new, and closely watched vehicle could have dealt a serious blow to Musk's plan to make the Model 3 the best-selling mid-size sedan in America, especially after less than a year of production.
After Musk spoke with Consumer Reports' lead automotive tester, Jake Fisher, he did something Fisher never saw before. The electric car maker issued a remote software update to all Model 3 cars on the road, reducing every vehicle's stopping distance to an acceptable degree, just days after Consumer Reports issued its first review.
"I think it is fair to say that is an industry first," Fisher said as he stood in the garage at Consumer Reports' test track in rural Connecticut, in front of each of Tesla's three models the group has bought for its tests. Fisher worked as a development engineer for General Motors before joining the group.
"The rate of change was incredible. In the very same week, where I had a conversation with Elon Musk and explain the problem, they were able to verify it and send our vehicle an update."
Tesla's reaction to the Model 3 brake test was quite a reversal from how it behaved in late 2017, when Consumer Reports said the Model 3 would have an "average reliability" rating, saying it would be "par for the course" in its class.