Tesla has been riding high since late in 2018 and into this year with the huge success of their Model 3 that's quickly become the best-selling domestically-made sedan in America. That's a significant accomplishment in light of their production and corporate woes. Well, though the sales stats haven't changed, Tesla will have to weather recent bad news.

Model S Driver Death in Florida

A Tesla Model S driver crashed at what was reported to be a high rate of speed, upwards of 90 mph. He lost control of the vehicle and crashed into some palm trees. Witnesses that the airbags deployed but did not deflate. The car's battery ignited and fire consumed the vehicle. Apparently, the door handles did not deploy as designed, either, and the driver did not exit the vehicle. Emergency services tried to break the glass but were not able to get him out. Details about the cause of death haven't been revealed yet, but it's bad news for Tesla. 

tesla s door handles
In the event of a crash, the Model S's door handles are supposed to deploy. 

It's not so much the car fire that's problematic since any car can catch fire in a crash of that nature. But public perception is tough, especially when numerous Tesla fires have been in the news, as well as deaths from crashes. Lithium batteries, whether in phones or cars, suffer from what's known as thermal runaway. The batteries can catch fire repeatedly has heat continues to generate within the battery. But the bigger issue is the fact that the airbags apparently did not deflate, and the doors didn't open, potentially trapping the driver inside.

elon musk hands folded
Elon should be a bit stressed about current happenings. (image: Mark Brake/Getty Images)

Tesla's response to the incident was:

"We are deeply saddened by this accident and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy. We have reached out to the local authorities to offer our cooperation. We understand that speed is being investigated as a factor in this crash, and know that high-speed collisions can result in a fire in any type of car, not just electric vehicles."

Consumer Reports Pulls Model 3 Recommendation

tesla model 3
The Model 3 is loved by owners in spite of the many reported issues. (image: Consumer Reports)

In less tragic but still damaging news, Consumer Reports can no longer recommend the Model 3 due to the numerous reliability problems experienced by owners. Though it's still selling in huge numbers, the Model 3 is showing some shoddy workmanship, as well as technical glitches in its electronics. Some of the following problems have been reported:

  • Paint defects 
  • Loose trim
  • Touchscreen problems that cause music, navigation, and general functionality issues
  • Rear window cracks ranging from small to very large

As a result, the reliability rating for the Model 3 has dropped from average to below average, thus the removal of CR's recommendation for the car. Consumer Reports issued the following in regard to the Model 3:

"When the Model 3 first came out in 2017, Consumer Reports gave it an average predicted reliability score based on the survey results at the time about the Model S because the two shared much of the same technology. The car maintained its average score for predicted reliability in October 2018 based on the experiences of Model 3 owners who completed our spring survey. The new survey data shows that the car has dropped from average to below-average reliability."

What Does Tesla's Future Hold?

model y
Tesla's next vehicle is the Model Y crossover based on the Model 3. 

It's really anyone's guess as to what will happen next. They will weather this most recent set of difficulties, but if they don't iron things out and make better, more reliable products, there could be trouble. They have a glut of cash flow coming in due to mammoth Model 3 sales, but bad ratings and reliability, coupled with highly visible driver deaths, might just undermine customer loyalty and satisfaction, which currently remain very high.

The next vehicle for the brand is the Model Y, due in 2020 as a 2021 model. It's important because it's a crossover who's price will be far less exclusive than the pricey Model X (that has its own issues). The segment is hot, electrification is the future, and Tesla needs to make the Y even better than the 3. You can't be called an innovator if all your stuff continues to break. Tesla will have to take a hard look at itself in the mirror and start focusing on quality and safety more than releasing something that's just revolutionary. It's just not enough.