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Some early owners of Tesla's Model 3 are reporting quality problems. Do buyers care?

Russ Mitchell, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Automotive News

The assembly line and the company's battery factory in Nevada remain mired in what Musk has called "production hell." According to Tesla, the company is turning out about 1,000 Model 3s a week.

The manufacturing woes appear to be causing a wide variety of quality issues in early versions of the Model 3. Online Tesla forums are rife with comments from some of those lucky enough to have the car in hand. They're griping about dead batteries, leaking tail lamps, protruding headlights, door rattles, and body panels that don't line up -- and in many cases, they've got photos to back it up.

In a statement to The Times, the company said: "Tesla's customer satisfaction scores for Model 3 vehicle quality and condition are at an all-time high of 94 percent -- the best scores we've received from customers for quality and condition ever, across all of our vehicles, during early ownership. In the rare case a customer does have an issue, we take it very seriously, working closely with each owner to proactively address it."

While people on the waiting list complain about persistent delays that could stretch more than a year, many Model 3 owners say they're thrilled with their cars and are taking the quality issues in stride.

"All my Teslas have been early editions, and unlike some, I expect there to be bumps in the road, door handles that don't work," a Napa County resident who identified himself by the username "roblab" said on the Tesla Motors Club forum. "I expect that Tesla will fix them to my satisfaction. I expect there to be problems at Service Centers and Superchargers. And it's no problem."

It's not possible to determine yet how pervasive the quality problems are -- and they may be difficult to quantify in the future. J.D. Power, the preeminent automobile quality research group, would like to include Tesla in its rankings, but "Tesla has not granted J.D. Power access to owner's information so that a large enough sample of Tesla models can be included in the Vehicle Dependability Study," said David Amodeo, a J.D. Power executive.

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All the major automakers participate in the J.D. Power quality surveys. In the most recent ranking, released Wednesday, Lexus, Porsche and Buick came out on top. Tesla cars were not rated.

Consumer Reports ranks reliability through surveys of subscribers. In October, it predicted "average" quality for the Model 3, due to improvements Tesla had made in the Model S, but didn't yet have data from Model 3 owners. That's the latest information available, a spokesman said.

Professional reviews are mostly glowing, especially about how the car rides and drives. Still, investors in Tesla's highflying stock will be watching to see if quality issues continue, and, if so, what effect they might have on sales.

But the enthusiasm of early adopters complicates earnings forecasts, said Efraim Levy, analyst at CFRA. "Tesla buyers are a patient bunch," he said. "Not just for the quality, but for the delivery."


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