Earlier this week, The Detroit News published a mostly glowing review of the Tesla Model 3. The newspaper, apparently super jazzed about the take, decided to give it prominent real estate, on the front page and above-the-fold. After the story was published, someone went into the online version and made a change to its characterization of the sedan’s much-criticized body panel fit. But the News won’t say why it happened.
The review, by News auto critic Henry Payne, was well-received among Tesla fans. CEO Elon Musk even boosted a tweet on Tuesday that touted the News’ perspective: “Tesla’s Model 3 Lives Up To The Hype,” the headline reads.
About halfway into the review, Payne—a self-described Tesla fan who paid a deposit for a Model 3—dropped in a passage about Tesla’s reputation for build-quality, and what he saw in the car he tested.
Critics have delighted as the most audacious auto entrepreneur since Henry Ford has struggled to get production up to a jog. But product will ultimately define Tesla — product that spurred an unprecedented 450,000-plus pre-orders from customers like me.
Take the much-ballyhooed issue of Tesla build-quality. Walking around this blue Model 3 tester, body panel fit is inconsistent. Gaps in the lid of the “frunk” — the front trunk — vary from nose to fender. An A-pillar seam is slightly misaligned. That doesn’t happen on, say, the similarly priced Audi RS3 I recently sampled.
In Payne’s opinion, “inconsistent” body panel fit won’t matter to Tesla owners because the “Model 3 is unlike anything they have driven.”
“It’s the iPhone of autos,” Payned said, echoing a very, very common refrain about the much-anticipated sedan.
But hours after Musk retweeted the News’ front page, for some reason, that particular passage was changed. And because the Internet doesn’t forget, here’s the revamped section, courtesy of The Wayback Machine:
Take the much-ballyhooed issue of Tesla build-quality. Walking around this blue Model 3 tester, body panel fit is generally good. Maybe not as tight as, say, the similarly priced Audi RS3 I recently sampled. But good. Gaps in the lid of the “frunk” — the front trunk — vary from nose to fender. An A-pillar seam is slightly misaligned.
I doubt owners will sweat such minutiae because the Model 3 is unlike anything they have driven. It’s the iPhone of autos.
To a casual observer, maybe it’s a minor difference. But the jump from describing the assembly of the car’s body panels as “inconsistent” to “good” is a fairly big leap.
And the issue’s something that—as Payne correctly points out—is often discussed in the Tesla world. The News itself seems to think it’s worth highlighting; on Thursday, the outlet syndicated a story from the Los Angeles Times that focused on Model 3 quality issues and how owners are handling them. (Tesla told the Times in the “rare case a customer does have an issue, we take it very seriously, working closely with each owner to proactively address it.”)
Apparently someone caught wind of the change. Late Wednesday, the News’ amended Payne’s piece with a lengthy correction:
This review has been updated to reflect that the Tesla Model 3 keyless entry system responds to a digital key transmitted by Bluetooth from the car owner’s phone or by tapping a thin card on the car’s b-pillar. The system was incorrectly described. Also, the “Autosteer” feature cautions drivers to check mirrors for oncoming traffic before activating a lane change. The level of autonomy was incorrectly characterized. Finally, the characterization of the body panel fit as inconsistent has been restored from an earlier version.
Now, the News should be credited for restoring the original characterization, and Payne evidently seems happy with the remark. When I asked him by email what happened, he punted to the News’ managing editor, Gary Miles, before saying: “I’m good with the story/video.”
Miles, in an email, said he didn’t want to comment on why the alteration was made.
“But I will say that I felt the changes in that particular passage didn’t meet our standards for post-publication alterations of a review,” he said.
It’s puzzling this even happened in the first place. The News is based in the heart of Big 3, and its readers across Metro Detroit still have an intimate connection with the auto industry. It still produces a well-rounded, extremely-detailed auto section on a day-to-day basis. So, the fact the News gave high marks for an automaker that virtually upended the industry’s longstanding norms is a big deal. (Musk apparently thought so, too.) But the change from “inconsistent” to “good” when it comes to the Model 3's much-scrutinized quality is perplexing.
I’m just wondering what happened in the newsroom that necessitated such a change in the first place.