EVs still have major quality problems, and it’s mostly about the software

One of the big selling points you hear for electric vehicles is that they require less maintenance than traditional gas-powered vehicles. No oil changes, less gunk, fewer moving parts — that sort of thing.

But EVs are essentially giant computers on wheels. And since when have you known any computer to be problem-free?

JD Power’s latest quality study is out, and it’s not looking good for EVs. And in some ways, it’s not a surprise. Like in past versions of the survey, battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles performed worse than their gas equivalents in just about every repair category measured by JD Power.

JD Power measures quality based on reported problems per 100 vehicles of a particular brand. According to the survey, people who own internal combustion vehicles reported having 180 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100), while EV buyers have 266 PP100.

The problems had little to do with the mechanics of EVs — motors, batteries, etc. — and almost entirely to do with the tech.

The problems had little to do with the mechanics of EVs — motors, batteries, etc. — and almost entirely to do with the tech

“Owners of cutting edge, tech-filled BEVs and PHEVs are experiencing problems that are of a severity level high enough for them to take their new vehicle into the dealership at a rate three times higher than that of gas-powered vehicle owners,” Frank Hanley, senior director of auto benchmarking at JD Power, said in a statement.

As with all things in EVs, you need to separate Tesla from the rest of the pack thanks to the electric automaker’s outsize representation among people who own EVs. Tesla typically performed better than legacy automaker’s EVs in past JD Power surveys. But now that gap has closed, with Elon Musk’s company rating as poorly as the rest. JD Power attributes this to major design changes in Teslas, such as the removal of traditional feature controls like turn signal and wiper stalks.

But most of the grousing seems to be about tech, a major concern given that the auto industry is haphazardly racing to cram as much software into their models as possible. JD Power has logged this problem before, and it seems to be exacerbating.

People are irritated about false rear-seat warnings and inaccurate and annoying alerts from advanced driver-assist systems, especially around new features like rear cross-traffic warnings and reverse automatic emergency braking. Infotainment touchscreens are giving people headaches. EVs had 30 percent more problems with “Features, Controls and Displays” than ICE vehicles.

And when car owners try to find relief from terrible native software experiences by mirroring their smartphones, they run into even more obstacles. “Customers most frequently experience difficulties connecting [their phones] to their vehicle or losing connection,” JD Power reports. “More than 50% of Apple users and 42% of Samsung users access their respective feature every time they drive, illustrating that customers want their smartphone experience brought into the vehicle and also desire the feature to be integrated wirelessly.”

The brands that log the fewest problems are the ones that tend to attract the most repeat buyers. Truck owners are extremely loyal, so Ram is rated number one in the survey. Someone who buys a Ram truck every few years is going to report way fewer problems with their experience than someone who is taking a risk on a new brand — or even a new powertrain.

None of this should come as much of a shock. These types of surveys are typically a good measure of familiarity versus unfamiliarity. Old versus new. We’re in the midst of a huge shift from traditional gas-powered vehicles to high-powered computers that run on enormous batteries. That transition is proving to be messy as hell, and customers are finding themselves caught in the middle.

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