Electric vehicles less reliable because of newer technologies, Consumer Reports finds

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  • Electric vehicles are among the least reliable cars and trucks in the automotive industry today, according to Consumer Reports rankings released Tuesday.
  • Reliability issues with all-electric vehicles were expected, since most automakers, with the exception of early EV-leader Tesla, launched fully electric models in just recent years.
  • Consumer Reports surveyed owners of more than 300,000 vehicles to make predictions about the reliability of 2023 model year vehicles.
Krisztian Bocsi | Bloomberg Creative Photos | Getty Images

Electric vehicles are among the least reliable cars and trucks in the automotive industry today, according to Consumer Reports rankings released Tuesday.

When compared with hybrid and gas-powered cars and trucks, electric vehicles powered entirely by batteries were the worst performing segment, aside from traditional full-size pickup trucks, according to Consumer Reports.

Reliability issues with electric vehicles were expected, since most automakers, with the exception of early EV-leader Tesla, launched fully electric models in recent years, said Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at Consumer Reports. He said companies have not had time to iron out issues that impact reliability.

Since electric car buyers tend to be tech-loving early adopters, automakers also pack the models with a host of other features that could also lead to issues.

“The automakers are using EVs as a technological testbed for whatever new technology they want to try out,” Fisher told CNBC. “By having all this new technology, there's a lot of potential problems with them.”

Consumer Reports surveyed owners of more than 300,000 vehicles from model years 2000 to 2022 and used that data to make predictions about the reliability of 2023 model year vehicles.

Electric models comprised a bigger portion in the rankings than ever before. State and federal incentives, and new environmental regulations have encouraged greater adoption of fully electric cars in and outside the U.S., in large part to try to reduce air pollution from transportation.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charging a hybrid- or fully-electric vehicle can cause pollution at the power plant, but total emissions from driving the cars are lower than from gasoline-powered cars. Electric vehicles can also become “greener” over time as power supplied from clean or renewable resources like nuclear, solar and wind increases.

Hybrids perform well

The report covers 24 auto brands with an established history. Of the 275 models in the report, only 11 models from seven brands were fully electric vehicles. Owners of more than 2,000 Tesla vehicles were surveyed.

Topping the list of electric vehicles was the Kia EV6, which was considerably above average. At the bottom of the EV reliability rankings was the electric Hyundai Kona.

Fully-electric vehicles, many of which were first released in recent years, comprised a bigger segment of the list this year than ever before, but still only represent a small segment in the market.

2020 Toyota Prius

Unlike all-electric vehicles, hybrid cars and trucks were among the most reliable in the study. That's largely because many hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius, have been on the market for years, so automakers have been able to work the problems out of them.

“When you put in new technology, and you try new things, and you deviate from what is proven technology, you're going to have more problems,” Fisher said.

Topping this year's reliability list for brands were Toyota, Lexus, BMW, Mazda and Honda – all ranking above average reliability. Seven of the top 10 most reliable brands were from Japanese and Korean automakers. Lincoln is the only domestic brand in this year's top 10 rankings.

Rankings of individual vehicles by Consumer Reports were not immediately available.

Tesla

As an overall brand, Tesla moved up four spots in the reliability rankings compared to last year but remained below average. Other brands with lower-than-average reliability included Chevrolet, GMC, Volkswagen, Jeep and Mercedes-Benz.

Fisher said Tesla is a “standout” regarding electric powertrains compared to legacy automakers.

However, Tesla owners continue to report problems with body hardware, paint and trim in their vehicles across all models, according to Steve Elek, program leader for auto data analytics at Consumer Reports.

A man plugs his Tesla vehicle into a Tesla charging station on September 22, 2022 in Santa Monica, California. Tesla is recalling over 1 million vehicles in the U.S. because the windows can pinch a persons fingers while being rolled up. 
Allison Dinner | Getty Images

Elek said that Tesla's high-end sedan, the Model S, exhibited steering and suspension troubles, and that the Model S and Model Y crossover utility vehicles both continue to have issues with air conditioning and heat systems.

The center touchscreen featured in Tesla vehicles remained problematic in the Tesla Model S and Model Y.

Selling fewer Model X vehicles, which have historically experienced problems, also assisted Tesla's ranking, Fisher said. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has compared the Model X, an SUV with falcon-wing doors, to a “Faberge egg” due to the relatively high number of parts required to make the car.

The company's entry-level sedan, the Model 3, was the only Tesla with an average reliability ranking, while the Model S and Model Y ranked below average.

Consumer Reports did not rate the reliability of driver assistance systems such as Tesla's Autopilot in its analysis.

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