Jul 29, 2022 - Economy

EVs recalled more often than gas engine vehicles

Illustration of a sad face made from an EV plug and two tires.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

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

Why it matters: With EVs promising to replace internal combustion engine (ICE) cars, their performance on traditional quality measures will be key to their adoption in the long run.

State of play: 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.

Related: 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.

Between the lines: EVs have been more likely to trigger recalls due in large part to the fact that they’re so much different than traditional cars and they have so many new features, Sedgwick executive Wayne Mitchell tells Axios.

  • “Anytime you have that new technology you’re going to have new issues that pop up — issues that they’re not able to foresee — and that’s where you’re going to see that increase in recalls,” Mitchell says.
  • New features on EVs often include technology like high-tech infotainment systems, fancy door handles and pseudo-autonomous driving systems.
  • "It’s feature-laden," Edmunds analyst Ivan Drury tells Axios. "I don’t think there’s any EV ... that doesn’t have a host of new” features.

Keep in mind: In some cases, EVs have been subject to recalls that also affected other gas-engine models with the same parts that weren’t specific to EVs.

  • But Mitchell agreed with the conclusion that EVs have been more susceptible to recalls than their ICE counterparts.

💭 Our thought bubble: For now, EVs are benefiting from the fact that their owners are largely early adopters who are willing to overlook their vehicle's shortcomings — in part because they’re getting so many new features.

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

Worth noting: This analysis does not cover traditional hybrids, like the Toyota Prius, but focuses instead on battery-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. Some of the largest EV recalls have included:

  • General Motors recalled every Chevrolet Bolt EV it ever made as of summer 2021 due to a battery fire risk.
  • Tesla has issued a slew of recalls affecting its vehicles, though many of them have been software problems that were fixed through over-the-air updates.
  • Toyota recalled its very first EV, the 2023 bZ4X SUV, in June due to a problem with the wheels.
  • Startups Lucid Motors and Rivian have already issued recalls to fix unrelated defects.

Yes, but: Gas-engine vehicles have had their fair share of recalls — including deadly disasters such as the GM ignition-switch scandal and Takata’s exploding airbags.

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

The bottom line: EVs are just getting off the ground, and that involves some growing pains in terms of quality.

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