A recent report by Consumer Reports found that hybrid cars are more reliable, on average, than gas-powered cars. This will be a boon to the hybrid and EV markets, as consumers want to switch to more affordable and cleaner cars, but worry about the reliability of unfamiliar technology that hasn’t been tested over time. However, the news isn’t all good for EVs quite yet. Hybrids also outranked EVs on reliability. Why would that be, and what does it mean? Well, it’s not all as bad as it sounds. Here is why that is happening, and why we don’t expect it to last.
Why are hybrids more reliable than gas cars?
Consumer Reports published annual reliability surveys for several years, which indicate hybrids are generally more reliable than their gas-only counterparts. But why? Hybrids were the most reliable among any vehicle types, with SUVs ranking third. The Ford Maverick pickup, Lexus NX SUV and Toyota Corolla sedan were above average reliability on top of major fuel savings, topping out the list of most reliable cars split out by model.
On the other hand, plug-in hybrids didn’t fare as well. The Toyota Prius Prime and RAV4 Prime are much less reliable than their hybrid versions, and the Chrysler Pacifica hybrid was unfortunately one of the most unreliable vehicles in the survey. Chrysler historically has had a variety of quality issues, from fit and finish to overall quality of certain vehicle parts such as steering columns on Jeep Wranglers, so that is not entirely unexpected. Legacy automakers who already have quality issues could be expected to struggle when diving into a new category of tech.
Plug-in hybrids are thought to have fared worse than non plug-in hybrids simply because plug-in hybrid technology is newer overall. Many automakers across the board will take time to bring their PHEV technology up to the level of internal combustion engine technology that has been refined over the years. Keep in mind that many automakers still operating today have roots that go back 100 years or more for refining combustion engine based technologies, while plug-in hybrid tech is only a couple of decades old at most, sometimes much newer.
So why would hybrids fare better than ICE cars?
That comes down to how hybrids are designed and built. Hybrid tech is built on top of refined ICE technologies. It’s also an improvement on them and receives more research and development money these days as the industry pushes toward all electric cars.
You also see something unique in hybrid cars: redundant technologies. While newer tech might fail or glitch out quite a bit, with hybrids, the end consumer is going to experience the final product as more reliable because many systems for electric operation have ICE standard technology as a backup, and vice versa. So even when one system fails, the other will take over and still function just fine.
EV quality lags behind hybrids
While the Kia EV6 EV was ranked highly for reliability in the Consumer Reports survey, a series of EV glitches affecting quality dragged down the overall reliability of EVs, from Tesla to the Ford Mustang Mach-E, which were ranked below average due to electronics flaws.
Many of these vehicles have ground-up new designs and new technology, which might explain why so many recalls and glitches have affected ratings. Only four out of 11 models with survey data sufficient for rankings had average or better ratings. However, notice how few EVs even have enough data to be ranked in this survey. EVs are only now being released onto the market, with many more electric vehicles in 2023 and beyond.
We expect EVs to have a lot of glitches at first and then rapidly improve. However, you have to get to the point first where there are enough EVs on the road to rank in the first place for them to compare with hybrids, which have been established in the marketplace for 20 years now.
How Consumer Reports ranks vehicles going forward
According to this survey, “mild” hybrids such as those from BMW, Ram and Mercedes aren’t always best, because they don’t offer much fuel savings and are more focused on adding power. These vehicles weren’t even ranked.
As of November, Consumer Reports will penalize models that don’t include pedestrian-safety systems like auto emergency braking. They will also stop handing out bonus points to vehicles that only have blind spot warnings and collision alert systems. So even though EVs are newer technology, they will need to keep up in level of tech available as well as functionality to be ranked in future surveys.
Automakers such as BMW and Mercedes, who are known for their sports cars, will likely pack in the tech features as they roll out new EVs. Then the question becomes how all those systems will fare and how reliable they will be when vehicle technology becomes even more complicated.
Bad news about plug-in and EV reliability
The bad news: plug-in hybrids and EVs still haven’t reached a point where they are more reliable than gas cars, but this sounds more negative than it is. Battery and other EV technology is still improving by the year, and with the huge push toward EVs for the future of the auto industry to be all electric within a decade or two, we should see a large improvement in EV reliability to match as the technology matures.
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