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cult consumption

Another reason Tesla is the Apple of the auto world

If it seems like nothing fazes Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk—not three Model S fires in six weeks, a federal investigation into the incidents, nor the automaker’s sliding stock—it may be because his customers have his back. The automaker’s luxury electric sports sedan took the top spot today in Consumer Reports’s annual owner-satisfaction survey, with the Model S scoring 99 out of 100 possible points and beating out Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

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

It also suggests that Tesla customers—at least the 600 who responded to the survey—have developed an Apple-like loyalty to the Silicon Valley automaker and its sleek, high-tech cars. That has helped the company emerge thus far unscathed from the intense media attention focused on two Model S vehicles that recently caught fire. (Their drivers ran over metallic objects that pierced the cars’ lithium-ion battery pack.) A third Model went up in flames in Mexico when its driver crashed through a concrete wall.

Granted, investors have not been as satisfied—Tesla’s share price was trading at $123 this morning, down 37% since the first car fire on Oct. 1. Nevertheless, Musk has taken the opportunity to cultivate loyalty by announcing Tesla would expand the Model S’s warranty to cover fires, even when the driver was at fault.

A similar streak of loyalty is buoying other electric and plug-in electric hybrid carmakers, even if those brands aren’t breaking sales records. The Chevrolet Volt, which took first place in the 2011 and 2012 Consumer Reports surveys, came in third this year but with a score that was only a point lower than in previous surveys. “Volt owners continue to love the car about as much now as three years ago, suggesting that the Volt has some staying power beyond its novelty,” the reports stated.

This is not to say that anything green will do. The Toyota Prius C, a smaller, lower-powered version of the popular hybrid, scored high ratings in the Consumer Reports survey after its 2012 debut. But it has since taken a tumble now that its fading novelty has revealed its mediocrity.

That’s not likely to happen with the Model S, given its high-performance and unique features, such as a 17-inch iPad-like screen that controls the car’s functions. Musk, meanwhile, is still feeling the glow. Fortune magazine, which today put him on the magazine’s cover as “Businessperson of the Year,” compared him to the king of comeback customers: Steve Jobs.

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