Engineer Who Compared Tesla Model 3 Quality To 'A Kia In The '90s' Buys Another Model 3. Here's What He Found

Illustration for article titled Engineer Who Compared Tesla Model 3 Quality To 'A Kia In The '90s' Buys Another Model 3. Here's What He Found
Screenshot: Munro & Associates

Sandy Munro, the manufacturing expert who once said an early Tesla Model 3 had fit and finish issues similar to “a Kia in the ’90s” now has a new Model 3. Munro just gave his company’s new car a once-over, and while he didn’t liken it it to a Korean economy car from three decades ago, he wasn’t thrilled with the flaws he spotted.

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(It’s Memorial Day, so we’re running some of our favorite posts from the last few months while we watch Indy, eat garbage and hug/hi-five our troop friends and family. We hope you’re having a lovely holiday weekend!)

As I mentioned in my technical breakdown of the Tesla Model Y, Tesla has learned a lot since the Model 3 came onto the scene a few years ago, building a more efficient unibody structure and cleaning up some lazy fit-and-finish problems. That’s the case with the new Model 3 as well, though some fitment issues remain, per Munro, owner of the automotive benchmarking company Munro & Associates:

The biggest issue you’ll see in the video above is the fit between the passenger’s side front door and the fender. Munro places a gauge in the gap between the two parts, measuring less than one millimeter of clearance at the top:

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Screenshot: Munro & Associates

At the bottom, the gap reads five millimeters of clearance. That’s quite an enormous disparity:

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Screenshot: Munro & Associates

“Why is it that every time I look at one of these things, the build is not right?” Munro says, frustrated. “This doesn’t work for me.”

Munro then measures flushness of the two panels that make up the passenger’s side C-pillar. It’s not flat:

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Screenshot: Munro & Associates
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He also notes how enormous the gap is between the rear passenger’s side door and the quarter panel.

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Screenshot: Munro & Associates
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The passenger’s side taillight, too, suffers from a flushness issue between the part of the light mounted to the quarter panel and the part mounted to the trunk lid:

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Screenshot: Munro & Associates
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In the end, Munro says he’s disappointed, though he gives credit to Tesla for making improvements.

“I was really hoping that I was gonna come out here and it’s gonna be just so marvelous — that I would have nothing bad to say,” he says. “But once again, I was disappointed.”

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“At the end of the day, this is a gigantic improvement over the 3 that I looked at before,” he offers, before hopping into the vehicle, seeming pleased.

Munro’s initial hoist review of the 3 also leaves him mostly pleased, pointing out how Tesla saved money by removing fasteners and changing suspension components (which seem well assembled, Munro notes). There is an access cover under the rear cargo area that seems superfluous and like a waste of money, but otherwise, Munro seemed happy.

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So there we are: One of the world’s leading vehicle benchmarking specialists thinks the new Model 3 is an improvement over the one with 1990s Kia-like flaws. That’s great, and Tesla should be applauded, but also urged to continue tweaking their process until their fit and finish can compete with other vehicles in the price class.

Before I conclude this story, I’d like to address a little controversy that came up after Munro disclosed that he’d owned Tesla stock. Auto journalist Ed Niedermeyer responded to a self-proclaimed Tesla investor named Sawyer Merritt, who pointed out Sandy Munro’s admission. Niedermeyer seemed appalled, calling into question Munro’s objectivity. You can read the thread below:

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I called both Niedermeyer and Munro to understand this issue further because Jalopnik has covered Munro quite a lot over the years. It’s our responsibility to investigate this as a way to ensure that our readers understand the source and context surrounding the information they absorb. Munro made it clear: “Anytime [Munro & Associates] finds anything bad, we lay into [the car].”

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“If it’s crap, I’ll tell you it’s crap whether or not I have stock,” he declared, emphasizing that his job is to assess cars, and that his investments in vehicles (and he has stock in other car companies as well) do not influence his benchmarking findings.

“This is totally separate. It’s totally different than what I do when I’m assessing a vehicle,” told me, saying that it only made sense to buy Tesla stock at the time he did. “If I’m gonna pick something, I want a return on my investment,” he said. “Anybody with a brain would have bought Tesla stock.”

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“All I’m doing is telling what I’m seeing,” he said, suggesting that anybody who has a concern with his findings take a look at the vehicle themselves: “You don’t have to hear it from me. Go and look!”

Munro told me he doesn’t take any gifts from automakers because it would harm his reputation. He continued by saying he doesn’t believe he can even affect Tesla stock with his work. “That’s ridiculous. I mean, think about it. I mean, really? Our best video hit like 300,000 people...there’s no way in hell that I could possibly have any effect on anybody buying anything.”

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I told Munro that while he is an engineer and not a journalist, and though his YouTube channel is new, the reality is that his word has grown to mean a lot over the past few years. That especially true after his brutal criticism of his first Model 3 saw coverage across scores of automotive publications worldwide. (It’s worth mentioning that Munro has also praised Tesla vehicles for their advanced electronics, driving performance, battery technology, and more).

Munro conceded a bit, seemingly understanding that as a host of a YouTube channel, and as a well-known authority on vehicle manufacturing, it probably does make sense for him to avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest. “I don’t have stock, and I won’t be buying anymore if that’s the norm for people who are doing what I’m doing,” he told me. “I’ll just find something else to invest in.”

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I also spoke with Niedermeyer about his tweets, which said that Munro apparently has some sort of “agenda” after stating that the engineer “[pumped] stock.” On the phone, Niedermeyer backed down a bit. “This is about disclosure and about potential or actual conflicts of interest,” he said before admitting that he thinks Munro “has been trying to give his honest perspective.”

Niedermeyer, who has written a book that extensively discusses Tesla’s stock prices, tells me his real issue isn’t with Munro, it’s with the bizarre way that Tesla fans blindly believe the benchmarking expert without thinking on their own. “What I have a problem with is not Sandy or what he said,” Niedermeyer said. “It’s the fans or the hivemind holding him up to be the pope for the auto industry.”

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Niedermeyer is concerned about the lack of critical coverage or discussion of Tesla due to the growing, entirely favorable online echo chamber that seems to suffocate dissenting voices. “The volume of outlets that...only cover Tesla positively...we’ve seen them multiply like rabbits,” he warned.

“I don’t hold that against [Munro], Niedermeyer said. “It’s an honest mistake to make.”

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“He’s made some mistakes, and I think one of them was not being up-front from the very get-go,” Niedermeyer continued, going on to say that this lack of disclosure — along with the fact that Munro could theoretically have accidentally been influenced by the ever-growing Tesla echo chambers taking over the internet — worried him.

Though he admits he was a bit harsh to Munro in the tweets, Niedermeyer makes some good points. Tesla stans are often blind followers of the brand, eschewing critical thinking to glorify what is, in reality, an impressive but imperfect company that builds impressive but imperfect cars and makes a lot of questionable decisions. The book author’s concern about this echo chamber is valid, as are his worries about Munro’s lack of disclosure about his stocks. Though Munro probably doesn’t think of himself as a journalist, as a prominent YouTuber he is one, and he probably has more influence than he thinks. So mentioning which companies he’s invested in is just a good idea.

Sr. Tech Editor, Jalopnik. Owner of far too many Jeeps (Including a Jeep Comanche). Follow my instagram (@davidntracy). Always interested in hearing from engineers—email me.

DISCUSSION

scott85
Scott

I really appreciate your writing, but giving a crackpot former blogger from TTAC (of all places) the title of “Automotive Journalist” is a little much.

The whole “both sides” thing only works if both parties have legitimate, good faith arguments to make. This Ed guy is full of shit.