Tesla ranks 30th in unofficial debut on JD Energy Dependability Research

The 2018 Lexus LC 500

Mack Hogan | CNBC

The three most reliable car brands in the US are now Lexus, Porsche and Kia, according to a new JD Power study. The three least reliable are Jaguar, Alfa Romeo, and Land Rover.

Tesla, which was featured for the first time in this year’s vehicle reliability study, was ranked 30th out of 33 automakers. It ended up one place behind Chrysler and one in front of Jaguar.

JD Power studies serve as an industry benchmark and their results can drive sales and affect insurance premiums for home owners. The 2021 U.S. Vehicle Reliability Study analyzed responses from 33,251 verified owners of 2018 model year vehicles sold in the U.S. Around 150 different models were evaluated in the study, including cars, trucks and SUVs.

Tesla’s rank in the 32-year annual study this year is considered unofficial, said Dave Sargent, vice president of automotive quality at JD Power. That’s because Elon Musk’s electric vehicle company doesn’t give JD Power permission to interview its owners in 15 states where it is required.

One of the excluded states is California, Tesla’s home base and a huge market for the company. However, the JD Power study included 756 Tesla respondents from 35 different states, including major markets with relatively warm weather such as Florida and Texas.

While Tesla was unofficially rated low in the reliability survey, it was unofficially at the top of JD Power’s 2020 APEAL survey, which rates vehicle brands based on owners’ emotional attachment and enthusiasm for their new vehicles.

Who’s up, who’s down

The Reliability Survey asks drivers how many and what problems their cars, trucks, or SUVs have had in the past year, and assigns a rating based on the problems reported per 100 vehicles. The lower the score, the more reliable the automaker is.

Most of the problems reported by vehicle owners of all makes and models have been related to audio, communications, entertainment, and navigation systems.

“With smartphone apps increasingly offering owners an alternative, some will abandon the vehicle’s built-in systems that caused this initial frustration. This is problematic for automakers as much of the vehicle’s value is tied up in these systems and they are not to do.” I want to pass this business on to someone else, “said Sargent.

The Porsche 911 was the best-placed model in the 2021 study.

Lexus, which is owned by Toyota, topped the list of all brands with 81 problems per 100 vehicles.

Kia vehicles have gone from the least reliable auto brands in the US to the most reliable in just a decade, with an average of 97 problems per 100 vehicles. Toyota topped the list with 98 problems per 100 vehicles.

Volkswagen, which presented two new models in 2018, slipped in the reliability rating. Sargent noted, “Results can be affected by whether a manufacturer has just launched a number of new products. They are usually the most problematic in their first year.”

3-year-old Tesla owners reported 176 problems per 100 vehicles, compared to the US industry average of 121 problems per 100 vehicles. Tesla owners reported more problems with their exterior and interior than with other systems such as propulsion, battery, or infotainment and navigation. However, some complained about problems with Tesla’s in-vehicle speech recognition.

Overall, the reliability of the vehicle improved by around 10% over the previous year, according to JD Power. Part of this was due to reduced vehicle use and abuse in the context of a Covid pandemic that restricted commuting and travel in the US in 2020.

“We know the more people use a vehicle, the more problems they will have,” said Sargent. Last year, consumers had driven an average of 32,000 miles in three years’ ownership of a new vehicle. That year they had driven 29,000 miles – a 10% reduction over three years and an implied 30% reduction last year.

– CNBC’s Michael Wayland contributed to this report.

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