JD Power Survey Slams Electric Cars. It’s The Tech, Stupid!

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JD Power has released its 2024 US Initial Quality Study, which tracks owner satisfaction with a new car or truck in the US. The survey statistics are presented in terms of the number of owner complaints per 100 vehicles. A lower PP100 score indicates fewer problems reported and hence higher quality. In this year’s survey, Ram vehicles had the lowest number of owner complaints, at 149 PP100. For other mass market brands, Chevrolet was ranked second in initial quality at 160 100PP and Hyundai was third at 162 PP100.

The JD Power 2024 U.S. Initial Quality Study, now in its 38th year, is based on responses from 99,144 purchasers and lessees of new 2024 model-year vehicles who were surveyed after 90 days of ownership. For the first time, the study additionally incorporates repair visit data based on hundreds of thousands of real-world events reported to franchised new-vehicle dealers.

If you are reading CleanTechnica, you probably are not that interested in the initial quality of a Ram 1500 pickup truck. Chances are you are much more interested in what is happening with electric cars (which for the purposes of this discussion includes plug-in hybrids). Here, the news is not good.

JD Power Reports Several Issues With Electric Cars

JD Power says proponents of battery electric vehicles often state these vehicles should be less problematic and require fewer repairs than gasoline-powered vehicles since they have fewer parts and systems. However, newly incorporated repair data shows BEVs, as well as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, require more repairs than gas-powered vehicles in all repair categories. “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. [Note: Frank Hanley and I are not related. Although, it appears he may have an IQ several points higher than mine, evidenced in part by the fact that he has a real job.]

“Gas- and diesel-powered vehicles average 180 PP100 this year, while BEVs are 86 points higher at 266 PP100. While there are no notable improvements in BEV quality this year, the gap between Tesla’s BEV quality and that of traditional OEMs’ BEV quality has closed, with both at 266 PP100. In the past, Tesla has performed better, but that is not the case this year and the removal of traditional feature controls, such as turn signals and wiper stalks, has not been well received by Tesla customers,” JD Power says.

It’s The Tech, Stupid!

The problems had little to do with the mechanics of EVs — motors, batteries, and so forth — and almost entirely to do with the tech. As with all things involving EVs, you need to separate Tesla from the rest of the pack, thanks to its outsized representation among people who own EVs, The Verge says. Tesla typically performed better than legacy automakers’ EVs in past JD Power surveys, but now that gap has closed, with Tesla rating as poorly as the rest. JD Power attributes this to major design changes in Tesla vehicles, such as the removal of traditional feature controls like turn signal and wiper stalks. Most of the complaints are 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, The Verge says.

People are irritated about false rear seat warnings and inaccurate and annoying alerts from advanced driver assistance 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 conventional vehicles.

Smartphone connectivity is a huge issue for many drivers. When they try to find relief from terrible native software experiences by mirroring their smartphones, they run into serious 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.”

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 gasoline-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.

JD Power says quite clearly, “In-vehicle controls are out of control. Features, controls and displays is the second most problematic category in the study, slightly better than only the notoriously issue-prone infotainment category. From such seemingly simple functions like windshield wipers and rear view mirrors to the more intricate operation of an OEM smartphone application, this category is particularly troublesome in EVs. The PP100 incidence in this category is more than 30% higher in EVs than in gasoline powered vehicles. This is exacerbated by Tesla’s recent switch to steering wheel–mounted buttons for horn and turn signal functions, a change not well received by owners.”

Tesla, Tech, & The EV Revolution

I am going to go out on a limb here and probably piss off a few readers. So be it. When Tesla burst upon the scene, it initiated several revolutions all at once. The first was proving that electric cars were more than glorified golf carts. In that respect, it has succeeded brilliantly. It can be argued that Tesla lit the fuse on the EV revolution worldwide. Bravo! It also introduced the direct-to-consumer sales model, which has largely succeeded except in several US states where powerful dealer groups have prevented it from happening, including Elon Musk’s latest adoptive home of Texas. Then there is the Supercharger network, which is the envy of the world.

Last but not least is the “computer on wheels” model, with one enormous touchscreen in place of all the stalks, buttons, knobs, and gauges people are accustomed to. I will point out here the usually negative experience people had when they tried renting Teslas from Hertz and other car rental companies. They had no idea how to operate them. We are used to cars having certain attributes. The accelerator is on the right, the brake pedal is on the left. Turn signals are on the left, wiper controls on the right. The radio and climate controls are in the center. There is a collection of gauges in front of the driver. You get in and whether its a Mercedes or a Yugo, you pretty much know where everything is and how it all works.

With the EV revolution came the “computer on wheels” revolution. The first has succeeded wonderfully well. The second? Not so much. In fact, the second may actually be holding the transition to electric cars back. We do not need or want to become computer geeks in order to drive an electric car. The advantages of driving on electrons instead of molecules — vastly increased efficiency, abundant torque, a silent drivetrain, regenerative braking, among others — can be enjoyed just as much in a car where you have to operate your own windshield wipers, tune your own radio, and adjust your own climate controls.

Eliminating some of this digital complexity would help lower prices of electric cars so that more people could afford to own one, which would help power the EV revolution forward faster. Every Tesla made today incorporates an onboard liquid-cooled supercomputer with eleventy six times more processing power than the computers that guided astronauts to the moon and back. That computer is an expensive bit of kit that most of us could do without — and which could potentially lower the price of cars if it was deleted.

It could also lower the cost of repairs. I have mentioned that my Model Y got a bruise in a parking lot incident earlier this year — a crease in the left fender behind the front wheel. The repair was $1600, but the body shop that did the work told me if the camera in that fender — which is part of the Autopilot/FSD ecosystem — had been damaged, a new one would cost $1500 and then the car would have to be taken to a Tesla service location to reprogram the system — another $3000. If so, that $1600 repair would have cost over $6000. Hertz was shocked by the cost of repairing Teslas that got damaged. Maybe that’s why some people are saying no thank you to EVs amid higher than anticipated insurance costs.

The problem with all this complexity is that it is making the experience of driving an electric car much less enjoyable. My old Irish grandmother would say Tesla is being too clever by half. People hear about things like the JD Power Initial Quality Study and think, “I don’t want an electric car. Too many problems.” And they have a point, even though those problems have little to do with the electric car piece of the puzzle and more to do with the “computer on wheels” piece.

So, please, Tesla and other manufacturers, put all those geegaws and jimcracks into your premium models if you wish, but give us some simple, affordable electric cars that will allow us to enjoy the benefits of driving on electricity without all the hassles the “computer on wheels” model brings with it. Is that too much to ask? Apparently so. One has to wonder if all this “computer on wheels” stuff is for our benefit of for the benefit of manufactures who can push extra cost upgrades to us over the air for as long as we own our cars?

Below is the full JD Power 2024 Initial Quality Study graphic that shows where every company in the survey placed. If you were a customer researching the purchase of an electric car, would you opt for an EV after finding this survey online? Probably not, and that’s pretty much the point.

JD Power 2024 Initial Quality Survey
Credit: JD Power

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

Steve Hanley has 5646 posts and counting. See all posts by Steve Hanley