Tesla Model S Tops Consumer Reports Survey of Owners

Tesla Motors Inc.’s Model S, the electric car being investigated for a possible recall, was the top-rated model for owner satisfaction in a survey of Consumer Reports subscribers, the magazine said.

The luxury model, which starts at $70,000 and can cost more than $100,000, received a score of 99 out of a possible 100, the highest the magazine has seen in years, Consumer Reports said today in an e-mail. In May, it earned a near-perfect score in the magazine’s own evaluation.

“In testing, the Model S stands out for its innovative design, outstanding performance, and surprising practicality,” said Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ director of automotive testing. “These results suggest Tesla owners are very, very satisfied.”

The survey, which hinges on whether an owner would buy the car again, was done earlier in the year, before three Model S cars caught fire after driving over metal objects or crashing. Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk has said there will “definitely” not be a recall of the Model S, and adjusted the software so the car won’t ride as low to the ground at highway speeds. U.S. safety officials have begun an investigation.

Executive Departure

Separately, George Blankenship, the former Apple Inc. executive who has led sales for Tesla and managed the creation of its company-run stores, left the automaker, according to a report by the San Jose Mercury News. Multiple calls and messages to Tesla seeking confirmation of the report weren’t returned.

Tesla rose 0.8 percent to $122.10 at the close in New York. While the shares have tumbled 37 percent since peaking at $193.37 on Sept. 30, they have more than tripled this year, after finishing 2012 at $33.87.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said this week it would look into the fire risks from the undercarriage of the Model S striking objects. In two such U.S. cases, one on Oct. 1 in Washington state and another in Tennessee on Nov. 6, Model S drivers hit metallic road debris that caused battery-casing damage and resulted in fires.

A third Tesla vehicle burned after a driver in Mexico hit a concrete wall in a high-speed crash.

None of the drivers involved in the accidents were hurt.

“Based on the Model S track record so far, you have a zero percent chance of being hurt in an accident resulting in a battery fire,” Musk said this week in a blog post.

Thicker Barrier

Should U.S. regulators reject Tesla’s software fix, they may order Palo Alto, California-based Tesla to install a thicker barrier of aluminum or a stronger metal in the Model S’s undercarriage. That would add cost and undermine Tesla’s claim to sell the safest U.S. car.

NHTSA said Oct. 24 it found no evidence the first fire resulted from defects or violations of U.S. safety standards. It didn’t send investigators to the scene of that accident in Washington state because it occurred on the first day of a partial U.S. government shutdown.

Tesla sales have surged in the U.S. this year, and the company plans to deliver 21,500 units of Model S to customers in North America and Europe in 2013.

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