Skip to main content

A reality check on Tesla

By Michael Harley, Special to CNN
updated 4:26 PM EDT, Wed May 15, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Consumer Reports said Tesla Model S performed better than any car they've tested
  • Michael Harley: Without question, Tesla is an innovative and awe-inspiring electric car
  • Harley: But Tesla has issues too, such as its high cost and dearth of charging stations

Editor's note: Michael Harley is an editor at Autoblog.com, a website that covers automobiles and industry news. Follow him on Twitter: @Schnell_Auto

(CNN) -- Consumer Reports, self-promoted as the largest independent consumer-testing organization in the world, recently subjected Tesla's all-electric vehicle to its standard gamut of automotive tests. The results were nothing short of extraordinary, as the model came just one point short of acing the 50-test evaluation regimen. Its final score of 99 out of 100 meant the Model S "performed better than any other car we've ever tested," said Jake Fisher, director of auto testing at the publication (Lexus owners will correctly argue that the 2007 Lexus LS 460L also earned a score of 99 in a Consumer Reports comparison years ago).

When the Consumer Reports results were released with the expected publicity and hype, many looked at the near-perfect score and extrapolated that the car was the best car ever made. The Tesla Model S is an extraordinary clean-sheet effort from a small American automaker, but I'd stop several yards short of considering it — or any automobile, for that matter — the world's best car.

Tesla : Consumer Reports' best car ever tested

Without question, Tesla's combustion-free five-door is innovative and awe-inspiring. I understand how the team at Consumer Reports became enamored with its effortless acceleration; cavernous, whisper-quiet interior; and glass panel technology. In fact, in my own first drive review published last fall, I called an early production model the "world's first practical, no-compromise, noncombustion automobile." Yes, it is pioneering.

Michael Harley
Michael Harley

Yet before anyone slaps a blue ribbon and a hearty best accolade on its sleek windshield, it is time for a reality check — the Model S is hardly one point away from flawless.

Even after overlooking all the Model S' objective blemishes (the team over at CR mentioned its lack of certain high-end features, stereo issues and parasitic battery energy losses when parked), electric vehicles lack a national infrastructure of charging points, accessible cross-country range and remain cost prohibitive for most consumers. These are major hurdles, preventing tens of millions from even considering vehicles like the Model S. Don't feel sorry for just the electric crowd, either. The same hindrances are lodged at other alternative-energy vehicles, such as those powered by hydrogen and natural gas.

Tesla's high-scoring 85 kwh Model S, arguably at the top of its pure-electric segment, is limited to a range of about 265 miles. Even though it may be plugged into any common 110-volt electrical outlet for a slow charge, high-speed electric vehicle charging stations have only sprung up in major population centers or along busy highway corridors, meaning a lack of foresight before heading down a less-traveled road may initiate a tow truck encounter.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are more than 5,800 electric charging stations in the United States, but just two public charging stations in North Dakota, and zero in Wyoming (Tesla plans to have a nationwide network of its so-called Supercharger stations within a couple of years). I don't need to remind anyone that gasoline for combustion vehicles is as readily available as pasteurized milk, and still less expensive.

And to revisit the cost, according to a recent study by TrueCar, the average transaction price for a new passenger car was $30,812 in January of this year. The flagship Tesla model tested by Consumer Reports wore an $89,650 window sticker, nearly three times the national average.

Test drive: DC to Boston in a Tesla Model S

A true best car wouldn't just need a bladder-busting range, readily available fuel or a price that would make it attainable by all. It would need to be every bit as adept in a Syracuse winter as it would be comfortable in a Phoenix summer. It would have to be safe in crash testing, smooth on the highway, maneuverable around town and compact enough to fit into a crowded city garage. Some would even ask for off-road and towing capabilities.

You see where I am going?

No car currently manufactured deserves the coveted best car trophy, and that includes Consumer Reports' 99-point Tesla Model S. Personal transportation needs are uniquely individual, based on occupation, regional location, household size, income and, of course, taste. Giving a vehicle a near-perfect score is acceptable — and there will undoubtedly be others just as impressive — but assuming that one vehicle trumps others and satisfies all equally is misguided and presumptuous.

To those who consider the Model S the world's best car, I throw out this question: What's the world's best shoe?

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Michael Harley.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:15 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:28 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT