Tesla lags auto industry in quality, finds new J.D. Power study

Key Points
  • Tesla owners reported more problems in their first 90 days of ownership than the other 31 U.S. auto brands included in the study.
  • Tesla's issues are primarily with production and things such as paint imperfections and poor fit of body panels, according to J.D. Power
  • The top-rated brands in J.D. Power's 2020 Initial Quality Study were Dodge and Kia.

In this article

People looking at a Tesla car on display at a showroom in Beijing.
Noel Celis | AFP via Getty Images

While many view Tesla as a leader in automotive technology, the company continues to face issues with the quality of its vehicles, according to J.D. Power.

As part of its 2020 Initial Quality Study, the firm found Tesla owners reported more problems in their first 90 days of ownership than the other 31 U.S. auto brands included in the study.

J.D. Power's study is considered an industry benchmark for quality. It surveys owners and then grades auto brands based on the number of problems reported per 100 vehicles. They can range from problems with infotainment systems and engines to paint issues and production.

The industry average for 2020 model-year vehicles was 166 problems per 100 vehicles. Tesla had 250 problems per 100 vehicles. The top-rated brands were Dodge and Kia both at 136 problems per 100 vehicles.

The less technology in a brand's vehicles, the better they typically perform in the survey because there are fewer issues to report, according to Dave Sargent, vice president of automotive quality at J.D. Power. 

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Tesla isn't officially part of the study because it doesn't allow J.D. Power access to customer vehicle registration data. The firm said it decided to profile the electric car maker anyway based on the roughly 1,250 owners it was able to survey, a majority of which owned a Model 3.

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

J.D. Power collects customer registration data from each state. But some states, including Tesla's home of California, require automakers to grant state officials permission to release the data.

Tesla's issues, according to Betts, are primarily with production and things such as paint imperfections; poor fit of body panels; trunks and hoods that are hard to open and close; wind noise; and squeaks and rattles.

A driver uses the map navigation feature on a touchscreen control panel just prior to the Tesla Motors Inc. 8.0 software update inside a Model S P90D vehicle in New York, U.S., on Monday, Sept. 19, 2016.
Christopher Goodney | Bloomberg | Getty Images

"These are primarily a result of factory quality," Betts said in an email. "Also, in the area of electric vehicle issues, they do have complaints related to: range lower than expected; range gauge is inaccurate."

Such issues are in line with owner complaints about Tesla's vehicles online, including its newest Model Y, which was not part of J.D. Power's report.

Tesla has experienced mixed results in such studies and reports. That includes models losing and regaining "recommended" ratings from Consumer Reports, which at one time ranked the Model S as its top-rated vehicle ever. 

Paint problems contributed to Consumer Reports temporarily rescinding a recommendation for the Model 3. In Canada, Tesla owners have filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against the carmaker over paint quality issues.

Tesla's issues somewhat vary from "traditional" auto brands, according to J.D. Power. The firm reports almost one-fourth of all problems cited by new-vehicle owners relate to infotainment. Top complaints include built-in voice recognition; Android Auto/Apple CarPlay connectivity; touch screens; built-in navigation systems; and Bluetooth connectivity.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

J.D. Power's study comes hours after U.S. safety regulators disclosed an investigation into 2012 through 2015 Tesla Model S vehicles regarding reported failures of the vehicle's large touch screens.

Domestic brands fared better in this year's study than their foreign counterparts, including Fiat Chrysler's Dodge being the first domestic brand in the study's history to rank No. 1. Hyundai's Genesis was the highest ranked premium brand for the fourth consecutive year in the study.

With seven top-ranked vehicles, Hyundai placed as the top overall automaker in the study. General Motors was second with six top rankings, followed by BMW, Ford Motor and Nissan Motor with three each.

J.D. Power survey: Hyundai's luxury brand Genesis leads reliability survey

-- CNBC's Lora Kolodny contributed to this article.