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Consumer Reports, which ranks the reliability of vehicles based on owner reviews, says the dependability of Tesla models has slipped in the last year as the automaker upgraded the hardware and software on its Model S vehicles. The analysis of 29 auto brands ranks Tesla as No. 27, one of the lowest-rated brands in this year's report.
"While Tesla hasn't changed the Model S in terms of how it looks, it keeps changing the vehicle underneath, so the reliability fluctuates," said Jake Fisher, director of auto testing at Consumer Reports.
Fisher added that many Tesla owners reported a number of issues, especially with the vehicle's air suspension system.
Tesla said the suspension issues for the Model S have been cut by 65 percent since last year.
"The suspension issues that some Model S customers experienced primarily in 2017 were due to a supplier-related issue that did not pose any threat to vehicle safety or drivability, and presented itself only when the car was parked," the company said in a statement sent to CNBC. "The issue has already been addressed for customer vehicles in the field and resolved at the source with fundamental design improvements."
While the reliability of the Model S has slipped in the eyes of Consumer Reports, it says the Model 3 has "average" reliability.
"The lack of complexity in the Model 3 is why we thought it would have average reliability, and that's what our members have told us," said Fisher.
The Consumer Reports annual auto reliability report is based on more than a half-million members of Consumer Reports reviewing their own vehicles. In essence, the owners report what's wrong with the cars, trucks and SUVs they drive every day.
Consumer Reports says the biggest issues with domestic cars and trucks are advanced transmissions, turbocharged engines and infotainment systems.
By comparison, owners of foreign-brand vehicles reported fewer problems. Lexus, Toyota and Mazda were ranked as the most reliable.
Fisher says the Japanese models benefit from management teams that are hesitant to make too many changes to their vehicles too quickly.
"Toyota and Lexus are taking a more conservative approach to adding changes to their models, and as a result, those models have fewer issues," said Fisher.