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A key promise of electric car ownership is that a simpler design provides improved reliability, in addition to energy efficiency. Last month, a Consumer Reports study showed that electric vehicles (EVs) generally cost less to repair and maintain than their gasoline-powered counterparts. However, CR’s latest reliability survey reveals that some new electric cars have significant problems that will be covered under warranty.
These latest results mirror what we’ve known for a long time: All-new cars and new technology are prone to growing pains. CR data have consistently shown that first-year models tend to be less reliable than ones that have been on the market for a few years. EVs are no exception, although specific electric components, such as batteries and drivetrains, are often not the issue.
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In our most recent reliability surveys, CR members reported about their experiences with 329,000 vehicles. Among the EVs that had more than their share of problems were the Audi E-Tron, the Kia Niro EV, and the Tesla Model Y.
E-Tron owners reported drive-system electrical failures along with power equipment issues. Model Y owners reported numerous build quality issues, such as paint problems (one of our members said that the day they received the car, there was dust, debris, and human hair stuck in the paint) and body alignment problems that led to owners not being able to close the rear hatch. Kia Niro EV owners reported problems such as having to replace a bearing in the electric motor.
As a result of these reported reliability problems, the E-Tron and the Niro lost their CR recommended status, and the Model Y didn’t earn a recommendation despite performing very well in our tests. Audi told CR it was aware of the issues and was addressing them, and Kia said it identified the issue for the 2019 model year and had already initiated a modification, which the company says is in production. Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
In the past, CR has assigned predicted reliability ratings for EVs based upon the simplicity of EV powertrains, as well as the manufacturer or model’s track record. However, our latest data show that EVs can have more problems because they often launch with new platforms and can be equipped with relatively new or advanced technologies.
“Often, it’s not the EV tech that’s problematic,” says Anita Lam, CR’s associate director of automotive data integration. “It’s all the other new technology that could show up on any car—new infotainment systems, more sophisticated power equipment and gadgets—that often gets put on new EVs to feed a perception that they’re supposed to be luxurious and high-tech.”
As a result of these findings, CR is changing the predicted reliability for several cars. While CR has not yet tested the Ford Mustang Mach-E and the Mercedes-Benz EQC, their reliability predictions are now below average. The Taycan, Porsche’s first-ever EV, impressed us on our test track, and it’s loaded with new equipment and tech. While we don’t have sufficient data from our members on the Taycan, because the new data showing problems with other EVs (this is Porsche’s first EV) we downgraded our reliability prediction for the vehicle from average to below average, and the Taycan is no longer recommended.
In response, Porsche told CR that the “focus in the development of every Porsche vehicle is careful engineering” with the “Taycan being no exception,” and underscored the company’s reliability by pointing to “the over 70 percent of all Porsche vehicles made that are still on the road today.” Porsche also cited its positive ranking in CR’s brand report card, which shows it is the most reliable European brand.
Not every EV has had issues in CR’s ratings. Basic EVs with their electric motor and battery have fewer parts that can have reliability problems. The Bolt, a compact EV, is one of Chevrolet’s most reliable models, but it doesn’t have many bells and whistles. Same with the Nissan Leaf, which has had mostly average reliability ratings over its long-for-an-EV model run. Conversely, feature-laden models, such as Tesla’s Model S and Model Xvehicles, have had more ongoing problems.
Reliability issues usually get ironed out when models are on the market for a few years. A good example is the Ford Edge, which was last redesigned for the 2015 model year. Ford comes in 22nd in CR’s list of 26 automakers, but the Edge stands out as its most reliable model, in contrast to the poor reliability of the redesigned 2020 Explorer and Escape SUVs.
Increasingly, EVs have become more than electrified versions of the same or similar gasoline-powered models. But Jake Fisher, senior director of CR’s Auto Test Center, says the latest EVs are more frequently built on unique platforms, designed to optimize battery placement and interior room. “Whenever a new platform or new component is introduced, there’s an opportunity for problems,” he says. “There are plenty of new cars that have reliability problems because they’re using a new transmission, infotainment system, or other unproven component. In most cases, it takes a little time to get everything straightened out, as anyone who has ever bought the first version of a car knows.”