Electric vehicles are more susceptible to recalls than gasoline-powered cars, data shows

Electric vehicles are more likely to have faults than traditional gasoline cars, according to an Axios analysis of industry data.

Why is this important: With electric vehicles promising to replace internal combustion engine (ICE) cars, their performance on traditional quality measures will be key to their long-term adoption.

State of play: Electric vehicles collectively accounted for about 0.9% of automotive recall incidents and 1% of total recalled vehicles from 2017 to the first half of 2022, according to data compiled by recalls manager Sedgwick at the request of Axios.

  • But during that time, electric vehicles averaged no more than about 0.4% of vehicles on the road, according to figures provided by automotive research site Edmunds and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. And that figure assumes that none of the 2.1 million electric vehicles sold this century have ever been scrapped during that time.

Related: Third-party studies of consumer experiences have also concluded that electric vehicles have more problems than gasoline-powered vehicles.

  • JD Power’s 2022 Initial Quality Study found that owners of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles reported an average of 240 and 239 issues per 100 vehicles, respectively, compared to 173 for ICE vehicles.
  • Electric SUVs were the least reliable vehicle category among 17 types ranked by Consumer Reports in January, largely due to issues that “often have nothing to do with the drivetrain” such as electronics, the air conditioning, body material and trim.

Between the lines: Electric vehicles are more likely to trigger recalls, largely because they’re so different from traditional cars and have so many new features, Sedgwick executive Wayne Mitchell told Axios.

  • “Every time you have this new technology, you’re going to have new issues popping up — issues that they’re not able to predict — and that’s where you’re going to see this increase in recalls,” Mitchell says.
  • New features of electric vehicles often include technologies such as high-tech infotainment systems, sophisticated door handles and pseudo-autonomous driving systems.
  • “It’s loaded with features,” Edmunds analyst Ivan Drury told Axios. “I don’t think there’s an EV…that doesn’t have a whole host of new features.

Keep in mind: In some cases, EVs have been subject to recalls that also affected other gasoline engine models with the same parts that were not specific to EVs.

  • But Mitchell agreed with the finding that electric vehicles have been more susceptible to recalls than their ICE counterparts.

💭 Our thought bubble: For now, electric vehicles benefit from the fact that their owners are largely early adopters who are willing to ignore their vehicle’s flaws, in part because they benefit from so many new features.

  • “Right now people are willing to compromise,” Drury says. “I think there’s a certain level of acceptance that you’re driving a dyno.”

To note: This analysis does not cover traditional hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius, but instead focuses on battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. Some of the largest electric vehicle recalls include:

  • General Motors has recalled every Chevrolet Bolt EV it has ever made in the summer of 2021 due to a battery fire hazard.
  • Tesla has issued a slew of recalls affecting its vehicles, though many of them were software issues that were resolved by over-the-air updates.
  • Toyota recalled its first-ever electric vehicle, the 2023 bZ4X SUV, in June due to an issue with the wheels.
  • Startups Lucid Motors and Rivian have already issued recalls to fix unrelated defects.

Yes, but: Gas-powered vehicles have had their fair share of recalls, including deadly disasters such as the GM ignition switch scandal and the Takata airbag explosion.

  • And some EVs performed well: Compact hybrids and plug-ins were the most reliable vehicle category in Consumer Reports’ rating.
  • “I don’t know of any vehicle that doesn’t have a recall,” Drury says.

The bottom line: Electric vehicles are just taking off, which means growing pains in terms of quality.

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