Tesla Refused to Play in J.D. Power’s 2021 Dependability Study, Got an Unofficial Bad Ranking

J.D. Power recently released the results of its 2021 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study. The market research company annually ranks vehicle brands from most dependable to least dependable based on various criteria. This year, there were over 30 brands in the running, represented by 150 cars, trucks, and SUVs. And the top three most dependable automakers in the United States are Lexus, Porsche, and Kia. But one brand you might’ve expected to perform better is Tesla.

It turns out that the Model 3 automaker didn’t even make the top 10. However, its poor showing might have more to do with Tesla’s unwillingness to play ball with J.D. Power’s study than the brand’s actual dependability.

Tesla’s unofficial low ranking

Tesla didn’t come in last place, but it was certainly close to the bottom. J.D. Power ranked the automaker 30th out of 33 contenders. To evaluate the more than 150 models in the running, J.D. Power analyzed responses from more than 33,000 verified vehicle owners of 2018 models.

So, did owners really have that many poor experiences with Tesla to warrant the EV maker’s poor ranking on this dependability list?

What J.D. Power does for car-buying consumers

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J.D. Power advocates on behalf of consumers worldwide. Its advisory services and analytics — along with cutting-edge artificial intelligence, big data, and consumer surveys — guide consumers by offering unbiased rankings of various brands. The auto industry is one of the broadest that J.D. Power surveys.

Its latest vehicle dependability study, now in its 32nd year, evaluates brands based on the number of problems that original owners cite. The study addresses 177 problems, divided into eight major categories. These dependability groups, listed on J.D. Power‘s site, include audio and entertainment, engine and transmission, controls and displays, and driving experiences.

Why Tesla has an unofficial ranking

Considering Tesla’s automotive innovations, you might assume the brand would earn a high ranking in J.D. Power’s dependability study. But for 2021, Tesla comes in 30th out of 33 brands. Dave Sargent, the vice president of automotive quality for J.D. Power, said in an interview with Business Wire that Tesla didn’t grant the organization permission to survey its vehicle owners in the 15 states that require such authorization. 

California is one such state that didn’t receive survey permissions. Because California has been Tesla’s home base and the state where many Tesla owners reside, a huge pool of vehicle owners aren’t represented in this dependability study. There were, however, some states where Tesla owners were surveyed. But the 756 or so consumer responses weren’t enough to accurately compare to other brands in the running. Of the few who did respond, owners of 3-year-old Tesla models cited 176 problems per 100 vehicles, greater than the average of 121, CNBC reported. 

Other brands hovering at the bottom of J.D. Power’s 2021 list

Other brands at the bottom of the dependability study’s rankings include Chrysler, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo, and Land Rover. And though Tesla joins these bottom-ranking brands, it doesn’t necessarily mean Tesla vehicles are entirely undependable. The EV maker unofficially landed low in this study but unofficially ranked high in J.D. Power’s 2020 APEAL study evaluating vehicle owners’ emotional attachment and enthusiasm about their new vehicles.

Tesla may not have earned high marks in this J.D. Power study. But in all fairness, only a small fraction of Tesla owners were authorized to participate. Maybe next year, CEO Elon Musk will allow surveys in some of those major metro areas. Then Tesla might see better results on the dependability list.