Tesla Model X at a charging station in Beijing, China.
Megan Reader | CNBC
Lexus was named the most trusted automaker in the Consumer Reports 2021 Automotive Reliability Report, followed by Mazda and Toyota, with Jeep, Tesla and Lincoln at the bottom of the list.
The report, which was released Thursday, looks at what went wrong with owners’ cars in the past 12 months and uses that data to predict how reliable future models from major automakers will be.
Consumer Reports surveyed more than 300,000 vehicle owners from model year 2000 to model year 2021 and used that data to make predictions for 269 different vehicles for the 2022 model year. The report covers 28 automakers and 144 models with a long history.
Battery-powered EVs made up a larger segment of the list this year than ever before, and their reliability ratings varied widely, while gas-electric hybrids were among the most reliable cars overall.
Consumer Reports evaluated 11 all-electric models from eight brands, including five all-electric SUVs, according to Jake Fisher, senior director of vehicle testing at Consumer Reports.
“The entire market is striving for a full fleet of electric vehicles. We are very interested to know what this means in terms of reliability, ”said Fischer.
Overall, luxury brand Toyota Lexus regained its top spot in the reliability survey after Mazda overtook it a year ago, noting that for the first time in 15 years, the Toyota brand was not number 1.
Mazda came in second in this year’s poll, followed by Toyota’s main brand.
Domestic brands like Chrysler, Chevrolet and Ford had average reliability, while others like Ram, GMC and Jeep were below average. Ford’s luxury brand Lincoln ranked 28th behind Tesla.
Electric vehicle reliability ratings varied widely.
The Tesla Model X and Audi E-tron ranked last in this segment for reliability, while the Kia Niro EV was rated “significantly above average reliability”. The Nissan Leaf and the newer Ford Mustang Mach-E were rated above average reliability.
High-end electric SUVs were among the least reliable vehicles in the overall survey.
“There is no reason why all-electric cars cannot be as reliable or even more reliable than traditional combustion-engine cars,” Fischer said. “This is how they implement the technology.”
Electric transmissions weren’t a problem. Instead, Fischer blamed unnecessary high-tech bells and whistles.
“With the introduction of electric vehicles, there is a tendency to just add so many technologies that are not needed,” Fischer said.
The reliability rating is in stark contrast to a Consumer Reports poll in which Tesla topped the 2020 listand then Lincoln. Fischer suggested that Tesla’s success with customers has led other automakers to surprise and delight consumers with features ranging from entertainment to serious. Elon Musk, an electric vehicle company, has pioneered wireless software updates that can provide car owners with new navigation features such as “waypoints” or provide recall fixes without visiting a dealership.
But introducing more software, hardware and features adds complexity, and that could reduce reliability, Fischer said.
Tesla’s low reputation is primarily due to problems with Model S, X and Y vehicles from the 2019 to 2021 model years. Tesla Model 3, which continues to be recommended by Consumer Reports, showed moderate reliability.
Typically, Model Y owners reported faulty sensors that needed to be replaced, problems with heat pumps, air conditioning, mismatched body panels, and trunk water leaks due to lack of seals, Fisher said. Owners have also reported various electrical and equipment issues with the more expensive and less popular Model S sedans and Model X SUVs with falcon wings.
Older models tend to be more reliable as companies tend to make adjustments and rework to solve known problems while sticking to the same parts and suppliers.
But Tesla is deviating from that approach, Fischer explained. “Almost by accident, Tesla will change major components, suppliers or sensors and other devices over the course of a year. The more you change, the more likely you are to run into problems. “
While EVs have demonstrated moderate reliability, hybrid and plug-in hybrid EVs, which combine EV components and traditional combustion engines, have been among the most reliable models.
“What stood out was that the compact and plug-in hybrids were the most reliable,” Fischer said. “It may seem counterintuitive. They are probably the hardest when it comes to the drivetrain. ”
Popular hybrids such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight have been on the market for several years now, and manufacturers have identified and addressed previous reliability issues.