Despite a ton of options on the market, many people are still wary of EVs. Some don’t want to buy an EV because of perceived range issues. Some don’t want to buy one because of battery life concerns. Some don’t want to buy an EV because public charging networks aren’t there yet. However, the biggest reason why people should think hard before buying a new EV is that the quality of many EVs at launch has been problematic. From recalls due to fire to owner complaints about software, very few EVs have rolled out smoothly. Let’s recap some of the problems facing popular EVs and then see what an expert has to say about quality in the segment.
Audi E-Tron GT
While the Audi E-Tron GT is a fairly solid EV, it’s not without minor troubles. Audi has a TSB out over E-Tron GTs shifting to neutral when coming to a stop without any driver input, a somewhat disorienting malfunction to have. The cause? Bad software; and software issues don’t just affect the drive unit. There’s also a TSB out for flickering heads-up display street names, one for dead telematics, and one for stored trouble codes upon delivery with no actual faults present. All of those issues sound annoying, so the E-Tron being one of the better of this bunch on paper when it comes to teething issues is wild. (Oh, and a fair warning for anyone who wants to peruse technical service bulletins on NHTSA’s site: German automakers will put out TSBs over anything, so you really need to dig for common E-Tron GT-specific faults).
Chevrolet Bolt EV
The big scandal around the Chevrolet Bolt had to do with a supplier problem, but it could still take out the entire car. It seems that battery supplier LG cocked up making the battery cells. Normally, when a manufacturer messes up building an engine, it dies in a puddle of its own oil at the side of the road. Expensive and annoying, sure, but relatively manageable without getting the emergency services involved. However, LG’s battery pack issue resulted in a risk of fiery death. Alright, so no actual death, but certainly fire. As a result, GM recalled every single Bolt EV and Bolt EUV it made from the beginning of time to August 2021, and put a stop-sale order on the whole lot. Dealers couldn’t sell new or used in-stock models, owners couldn’t park their cars indoors, and GM would eventually vow to replace the battery packs in all affected Bolts. Production wouldn’t start up again until months later.
Of course, the Bolts could only stay away from fire for so long. Late last year, Chevrolet recalled the vast majority of Bolts once again, this time due to a risk of the seatbelt pretensioners setting the carpet on fire in crashes. These problems are quite ironic considering that the Bolt name is meant to evoke the image of lightning bolts, which are known for causing wildfires.
Ford F-150 Lightning
While Chevrolet Bolts caught fire in the hands of owners, a Ford F-150 Lightning electric truck’s battery caught fire before the vehicle even left Ford’s custody. It’s a bit ironic that two vehicles named after lightning would have fire issues, but sometimes life deals up cards that even sitcom script editors would find heavy-handed. On Feb. 4, an F-150 Lightning ignited at a Ford storage lot. Awkward. In addition, Ford currently has a customer campaign out for F-150 Lightning battery performance degradation — not a great look for a recently-launched flagship EV.
Ford Mustang Mach-E
Mind you, the F-150 Lightning isn’t the only Ford EV to have been stricken with battery problems. In June of 2022, Ford recalled 48,924 Mustang Mach-E electric crossovers and placed a stop-sale order on in-stock units due to battery contactors overheating when the vehicle was driven like a Mustang. The fix came in the form of a software update, although I haven’t been out in a post-recall Mach-E to see if that update had any adverse effects on performance.
Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6
After receiving their new Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6 electric crossovers, many owners rolled into winter and realized they had no heat inside their pricey new cars. A quick scroll through the forums points to several owners having cabin heater issues, which would make for a very unpleasant winter driving experience. A technical service bulletin for these issues is known to exist in Ireland, although the issue is somewhat on the down-low. A more common launch issue was a lack of battery preconditioning, which is currently being fixed through a software update. Lack of battery preconditioning can seriously affect DC fast charging speed, which is a bit embarrassing considering that the E-GMP platform’s 800-volt architecture is a huge selling point for these cars.
Oh, and then there was the recall for the shifter control unit disengaging the parking pawl and letting these vehicles roll away without any driver input. That issue apparently led to four vehicles on the loose in South Korea.
Jokes about British cars and electronics are a bit cheap, but it seems as if Jaguar hasn’t moved past them quite yet. In 2019, Jaguar had to recall 3,083 2019 and 2022 I-Pace models because their regenerative braking systems could fail. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t sound so fun. Add in hundreds of technical service bulletins including one about failure of the high-voltage coolant heater, and you end up with a risky if visually-attractive buy.
This one’s a throwback showing that EV problems are nothing new. While the second-generation Leaf is a perfectly fine car, the original version had significant battery degradation issues due to how the battery was cooled. See, instead of using liquid cooling like pretty much every other EV on the planet, Nissan decided to save costs and cool the batteries using air. This didn’t work so well, and as a result, most early Leafs for sale are best considered about-town cars. Add in a recall for 2013 to 2015 Leafs’ brake relays freezing in cold temperatures, and first-generation Leafs didn’t have a great time on the market.
In 2022, Polestar recalled 3,457 2021 and 2022 Polestar 2 electric vehicles because the battery energy control module could reset while driving, cutting power and leaving drivers unable to accelerate or maintain speed. Mind you, the Polestar 2 isn’t just affected by one safety-related issue. the 2021 model currently has 93 technical service bulletins covering components from dead keys to problems during high-voltage battery replacement.
Instead of drivetrain problems, Rivian had an issue with keeping all its suspension parts together. Back in October, Rivian recalled 12,212 R1T electric trucks, R1S electric SUVs, and EDV electric vans due to hardware between the steering knuckles and upper control arms potentially backing out. While only two vehicles were confirmed to experience this failure, the thought of your shiny new expensive pickup truck doing its best Lightning McQueen impersonation is nerve-wracking to say the least. The solution was, in Rivian’s words, “a properly-torqued fastener.” Sounds almost too simple to mess up, right? In addition, Rivian recalled 12,716 R1T trucks and R1S SUVs just last month for restraint system issues that could “prevent the automatic locking retractor “(ALR)” from functioning as intended.” In simpler words, ouch.
Subaru Solterra and Toyota bZ4X
How mortifying must it be when your first real effort at a global electric vehicle has issues with wheels falling off? Yeah, these Toyota and Subaru twins had issues with lug bolts backing out despite Toyota being no stranger to lug bolts. The result was a stop-sale order, buyback offers, and a PR nightmare for Toyota and Subaru. We’ve covered the issue in-depth before if you want a closer look at these twins’ failure to launch. Since then, Toyota has issued several technical service bulletins regarding disappointing charging performance, so it looks like this crossover isn’t out of the woods yet.
What can be said about Tesla quality problems that hasn’t been said before? From Model 3 production hell to panel gap issues to an investigation into having steering wheels detach while underway, Tesla has quite fairly been the poster child for EV quality issues. What appears to be a combination of aggressive production targets and an inclination towards fixing things in post-production means that buying a Tesla has historically been a bit of a gamble. After all, when was the last time you heard of a new car’s bumper cover falling off after driving through a puddle?
Volkswagen’s in the midst of a software disaster right now and the ID.4 isn’t unscathed. The ID.4’s infotainment software sucks. It’s laggy, glitchy, and generally a fearsome beast to operate. While this isn’t EV-specific as the Golf GTI suffers from similar maladies, it’s still an annoying thing to get around when launching a new EV. Here’s something EV-specific though: The ID.4 can have issues with charging. Numerous owners have reported charging failures when trying to charge at home, be it on Level 1 or Level 2, and I also had issues trying to charge an early ID.4 on Level 1. This isn’t be excusable as charging at home should be painless, just like it has been in every other plug-in car I’ve tested.
So what’s going on here? We reached out to Robby DeGraff, Product and Consumer Insights Analyst at AutoPacific, for his insight on EV problems, and he reckons that manufacturers are still figuring out how to make EVs. “ICE vehicles for a hundred plus years now have been able to adapt on-the-fly to such an eclectic mix of environments, weather, and driving situations,” said DeGraff. “Automakers are trying to mirror that with EVs and we’re getting there. A lot of these quality problems affecting EVs related to the batteries themselves, expectedly, whether that be cells failing or the various fire risks associated with lithium-ion packs. I think once solid-state batteries arrive on the scene for EVs and even PHEVs, that’ll fix a lot of these issues.”
One thing that might affect how we perceive EV quality is that minor powertrain failure points are largely a thing of the past due to EV drivetrains. “It’s not like an ICE car in which if you’re driving and your muffler falls off or gets a hole in it, you can simply keep going,” said DeGraff. With the simplification we’re seeing in electric vehicles, fewer and larger failure points are to be expected.
DeGraff also pointed out that we also face new problems thanks to DC fast charging. He told us, “I’m especially concerned about these reports I’ve read about EVs getting absolutely fried at public charging stations. Whether that’s an issue with the vehicle’s battery or the plugged-in charging stall and cable itself. That’s a threat that needs to be addressed ASAP and doesn’t help wipe away any consumer worries about public charging infrastructure.”
In short, many of the issues around EVs is because companies have never done anything like them at scale before. Automakers like Tesla and Rivian that don’t have decades of history are still working on manufacturing. Automakers that we’ve been used to for generations are still working on electric powertrains and all the changes they involve. The electric future isn’t going to be trouble-free, so it would be reasonable to expect early efforts to always have some kinks.
[Editor’s Note: I’d also like to mention that a lot of cars, EV or ICE, tend to see TSBs and recalls, especially during their first model year. Now, we’re seeing cars debut that were developed during the pandemic, when automakers had to figure out how to design cars remotely. There have also been a ton of supply chain issues, and economic turmoil for suppliers and OEMs alike. There are lots of factors that are playing into the problems you’re seeing here, but it’s worth noting that these automakers are trying to put their best feet forward so they can jump into the EV future full-steam ahead, but they’re stumbling. And, whether the primary cause is indeed an unfamiliarity with EV technology and startups lacking historical automotive expertise — or if it’s supply chain and other COVID-related problems — that stumbling alone is worth highlighting given how important these cars are to these automakers, especially at this moment in auto history.
In response to one person’s much-appreciated feedback in the comments, I’d like to make it clear that we love EVs around here (I just bought one — more on that in a future article), and I’d like to quote an Axios article comparing EV recalls/defect numbers to those of traditional ICE-powered cars.
From the story titled “EVs recalled more often than gas engine vehicles”:
…EVs collectively made up about 0.9% of automotive recall incidents and 1% of total vehicles recalled from 2017 through the first half of 2022, according to data compiled by recalls manager Sedgwick at the request of Axios.
- But during that period, EVs represented an average of no more than about 0.4% of vehicles on the road, according to figures provided by car research site Edmunds and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. And that figure assumes that none of the 2.1 million EVs sold this century were ever scrapped during that period.
…Third-party studies of consumers’ experiences have also concluded that EVs have more problems than gas-engine vehicles.
- The 2022 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study found that owners of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids reported an average of 240 and 239 problems per 100 vehicles, respectively, compared with 173 for ICE vehicles.
- Electric SUVs were the least reliable category of vehicles among 17 types ranked by Consumer Reports in January, due in large part to issues that “often have no connection to the drivetrain,” such as electronics, climate system, body hardware and trim.
(Photo credits: Audi, Chevrolet, Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Jaguar, Nissan, Polestar, Rivian, Subaru, Toyota, Tesla, Volkswagen)
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