Electric vehicles earn shocking report card for reliability

Legacy auto makers struggle with new tech, and upstarts suffer teething problems with first cars

Consumer Reports' latest car reliability survey suggests electric vehicles (EVs) are causing owners more problems than their hybrid or conventional counterparts.

According to the survey, based on owner responses on more than 330,000 vehicles, EVs from the past three model years suffered a whopping 79 percent more problems than conventional cars.

The most common problems reported had to do with the electric drive motors and batteries. Charging was also an issue, although more so with the vehicle than home or public chargers.

Tesla, a brand most associated with EVs, fell in the middle of the pack. 2020's Model Y joined the Model 3 in earning a Consumer Reports Recommended status. Tesla has considerably more experience building EVs than other manufacturers in the report, and owners have reported fewer issues with its electronics and drivetrain this time round.

That said, the company still has work to do when it comes to putting the vehicles together. Steven Elek, leader of the auto data analytics program at Consumer Reports, said: "Tesla powertrains are now pretty solid for the most part, but Tesla owners report a lot of build quality issues including irregular paint, broken trim, door handles that don't work, and trunks that don't close. All of these pull down the brand's reliability score."

Luckily for Tesla, Consumer Reports does not factor in build quality with the same weight as engine, transmission, and drivetrain.

Interestingly, hybrid vehicles had 26 percent fewer problems than conventional vehicles, while plug-in hybrids fared worse than EVs, notching up 146 percent more issues.

Elek noted that hybrids have been around for quite a while. The Toyota Prius, for example, went into production in 1997. He said: "Automakers have been making hybrids long enough that they've gotten really good at it."

Unlike plug-in hybrids, it seems.

As for EVs, Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at Consumer Reports, put the problems down to legacy automakers getting to grips with the technology or new companies experiencing teething trouble with their first cars. He said: "It's not surprising that they're having growing pains and need some time to work out the bugs."

The EV marketplace is challenging for auto dealers in the US. Nearly 4,000 recently signed an open letter urging the current administration to back off plans to push EVs since demand is apparently low and inventory is sluggish.

Or is it? Other data showed sales hitting record highs.

Still, if dealers are worried about EVs needing less by way of maintenance and repair than their combustion engine sporting counterparts, the figures from Consumer Reports will provide some solace. EVs are indeed the same or superior to their predecessors. At least in terms of issues reported by customers. ®

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