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By Ben Foldy
After tumbling in the rankings last year, electric car maker Tesla Inc. rebounded slightly in Consumer Reports' latest automobile reliability survey, with the organization restoring its recommended rating to two models: the Model 3 and Model S.
While Tesla still ranks in the bottom third of all major car makers, reliability has improved, particularly on the Model 3, as the company has increased production and ironed out earlier manufacturing issues, said Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports' director of auto testing. Tesla moved up four slots in this year's rankings to no. 23 out of 30 brands.
The Model X, however, continued to struggle, ranking among the least reliable models in the annual survey released Thursday.
"There was a kind of chaos as they ramped up production and finalized the design," Mr. Fisher said. "Things have calmed down, it's a little more stable and the reliability has improved."
Tesla didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Consumer Reports' closely watched reliability survey, which ranks 30 brands sold in the U.S. market, is based on data collected from its members' experiences with more than 400,000 vehicles. Auto makers are often eager to highlight Consumer Reports' seal of approval in their marketing campaigns.
Results were mixed for the U.S. and European auto makers, while the Korean brands -- Hyundai, Kia and Genesis -- closed the quality gap with the top-rated Japanese car makers, the latest survey shows.
Consumer Reports has repeatedly dinged Tesla in the past for reliability and quality issues, most recently pulling its recommended rating in February for the Model 3 after fielding complaints from owners of loose body trim and glass defects.
Despite this, the Model 3 -- the company's newest plug-in electric vehicle -- has helped drive record sales results for Tesla overall and a surprise profit in the third quarter.
Car companies with recently redesigned models or new technologies tend to fare worse in the reliability rankings, largely because they are still working out the kinks, Mr. Fisher said. Auto makers also struggled with rolling out new features, such as display screens and new transmissions, a perennial problem as new technologies can often lead to more complications, he added.
All three Detroit car companies confronted reliability challenges with their full-size pickups, a fiercely competitive market that provides the bulk of their global profits.
Ford Motor Co.'s top-selling F-150 pickup and General Motors Co.'s Sierra and Silverado large trucks all had below average reliability, while the Ram 1500 made by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV had a similar predicted reliability score, Consumer Reports found. Mr. Fisher attributed the lackluster ratings to Detroit facing little truck-market competition.
Fiat Chrysler showed the most improvement of the U.S. car makers, with the Dodge and Chrysler brands edging up in the rankings -- an improvement Mr. Fisher said is largely due to an older lineup and fewer design changes. The company's popular Jeep brand, however, fell in the latest rankings to no. 26.
Ford finished near the middle of the pack with little change from the previous survey.
General Motors had a tougher year. The company's best-performing brand, Buick, still fell five spots while GMC, Chevrolet and Cadillac finished in the bottom-third. Cadillac ranked last in reliability.
"While we take this study seriously, it is only one of several data sources we use to measure customer satisfaction," a GM spokesman said. The company will analyze the Consumer Reports data for opportunities to improve, he said.
The Japanese car makers largely held on to the top slots, with Lexus, Mazda and Toyota taking in the top three in that order. The Korean brands all three finished in the top 10 as well, with no model in any of their lineups earning a below-average rating, Mr. Fisher said.
Challenges rolling out newer and redesigned models hit Volkswagen, Audi and BMW hard, with all three sinking in the rankings.
VW's Atlas SUV, which made its debut in 2017, continued to fare poorly, with owners reporting problems with the car's electronics and fuel system, Consumer Reports said.
Audi's fall from the top third illustrates how even companies with strong reliability reputations can encounter challenges when rolling out new technologies, Mr. Fisher said.
"We've been talking for years about how Audi is really making quite reliable vehicles," he added. "It can happen to the best of them."
Audi's feedback on the newly redesigned models has been positive and the company will be happy to work with Consumer Reports to address customer concerns, a company spokesman said.
VW didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Write to Ben Foldy at Ben.Foldy@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 14, 2019 15:07 ET (20:07 GMT)
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