Skip to main content

A reality check on Tesla

By Michael Harley, Special to CNN
May 15, 2013 -- Updated 2026 GMT (0426 HKT)
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
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2108 GMT (0508 HKT)
The NFL's new Player Conduct Policy was a missed chance to get serious about domestic violence, says Mel Robbins.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2233 GMT (0633 HKT)
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the CBO didn't provide an accurate picture of Obamacare's impact, so why rehire its boss?
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 0040 GMT (0840 HKT)
Russian aggression has made it clear Ukraine must rethink its security plans, says Olexander Motsyk, Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 0046 GMT (0846 HKT)
The Senate committee report on torture has highlighted partisan divisions on CIA methods, says Will Marshall. Republicans and Democrats are to blame.
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
It would be dishonest to say that 2014 has been a good year for women. But that hasn't stopped some standing out, says Frida Ghitis.
ADVERTISEMENT