Survey: Which EVs Are Leaving Drivers the Most Satisfied?

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

With electric vehicles getting a lot of press, you might be wondering which models are scratching consumers in all the right places.

According to J.D. Power’s U.S. Electric Vehicle Experience Ownership Study, the Kia Niro EV is the best thing the mainstream BEV market currently has to offer. The Korean model garnered a satisfaction rating of 744 points out of a possible 1,000. However, it wasn’t the top dog overall. That honor fell to the Tesla Model 3, which achieved a score of 777 points — besting the industry average for premium electrics by a whole seven points.

Our winner was followed closely by other Tesla products. The Tesla Model Y ranked second in the upscale segment (770 points) followed by the Tesla Model S (756) and Audi E-tron (718).

Among mainstream brands, the Ford Mustang Mach-E came in second place with 744 points. Though the overall satisfaction of the mass market segment averaged a much lower 709.

Done in collaboration with PlugShare, the Electric Vehicle Experience Ownership Study is hoping to set “the standard for benchmarking satisfaction with the critical attributes that affect the total or overall EV ownership experience for both BEV and PHEV vehicles.” Survey respondents included 8,122 owners of 2016-2022 model-year vehicles, all weighing in between October and November of 2021.

That’s a decent sample size for these types of studies. But it’s hard to take J.D. Power at face value until you’ve examined how the questionnaire was framed. Some of the outlet’s surveys measure little more than how excited someone was about a vehicle immediately after purchase, while others take a deeper look at customer satisfaction over time. For the EV ownership study, J.D. Power looked at 10 individual factors (three more than last year’s survey). These included accuracy of stated battery range; availability of public charging stations; battery range; cost of ownership; driving enjoyment; ease of charging at home; interior and exterior styling; safety and technology features; service experience; and vehicle quality/reliability.

Taking all of the above into account, I’m a little sad to see the Hyundai Kona Electric not getting an honorable mention. It was the first non-luxury BEV that appealed to me on any level and is effectively a smaller version of the Niro EV with better range. But customers may have found interior volume lacking (the battery cuts into rear-seat legroom) and the Kia always felt a bit peppier around town. Still, you’d think the disparity in range (239 miles vs 258 miles) would have come into play.

J.D. Power even stated as much when identifying it as one of the key factors that would keep EV owners the happiest. It cited range as the single most important issue in both the premium (86 percent) and mass-market segments (87 percent). Other takeaways included the relevance of government-backed incentives and quality control:

More than two-thirds (68 percent) of EV owners received a purchase incentive. Overall satisfaction is higher among owners who say incentives are very easy to get (760) vs. among owners who say incentives are somewhat/very difficult to get (712). Among owners who cite incentives as a key purchase driver, 79 [percent] received a federal tax credit/rebate, but only 59 [percent] of that group say it was very easy to receive. “Many EV incentives and rebates have to be handled by owners,” [Brent Gruber, senior director of global automotive at J.D. Power,] said. “Dealers can facilitate the process for first-time owners by providing necessary links and forms and then walk the customer through the steps for claiming the federal and state tax credits.”

While infotainment is the most problematic category for owners of mass market BEVs (26.2 problems experienced per 100 vehicles, or PP100), the leading problems in the premium BEV segment are exterior (14.6 PP100) and squeaks and rattles (13.4 PP100). “Quality and reliability are extremely important factors to which manufacturers will have to pay close attention,” Gruber said. “As the EV market matures, EV owners will compare the build quality to internal combustion engine (ICE) models. Our research finds that, in general, EVs aren’t problematic because of the model type, but problems experienced are often related to technology- and feature-laden models, which present some challenges for minimizing quality issues. There’s essentially more to go wrong.”

For now, it seems as though BEV customers are a bit more willing to deal with manufacturing defects than their friends who drive gas burners. Early adopters also seem willing to purchase an EV again (at 62 percent), provided their last car didn’t become problematic. But even those that got stuck win an all-electric lemon expressed a majority consensus to at least consider another electric car from a different brand.

“Making the initial leap of faith into owning a BEV is proving to be very satisfying,” stated Gruber. “We know from our research that many consumers have concerns during the purchase consideration process with aspects like battery range and vehicle charging. However, once someone has purchased a BEV, they’re pretty much hooked. What will keep first-time owners coming back to buy another BEV is the compelling experience with the safety and technology features, lower service and maintenance costs, and pure driving enjoyment. The new BEVs from traditional brands are helping to attract even more first-time buyers.”

Based on J.D. Power’s own data, I wouldn’t go as far as to say everyone who purchased a BEV in the past will become a lifelong fan. But most don’t appear to be turned off by the experience, even if it went less than swimmingly. That matches several other ownership studies I’ve encountered over the last few years. But the relevant outlets always leave you with a few doubts, regardless of the topic. After all, J.D. Power’s first order of business tends to be telling automakers exactly what they want to hear and withholding the rest until they’re willing to pay for it.

[Images: Working Title Productions/Shutterstock; Kia Motors; Ford Motor Co.]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Carlson Fan Carlson Fan on Jan 29, 2022

    "That’s a decent sample size for these types of studies. But it’s hard to take J.D. Power at face value until you’ve examined how the questionnaire was framed. " Exactly! "I hate how an EV drives" said no-one ever. I demo'd a Volt for 3 days when they first came out and that's when I knew I had to have one. Loved the way it drove. So many of them were sold to people who had never given the car a 2nd thought until they drove or rode in a coworkers, neighbors or friends. I highly question JD's 62% number for early adopters who would purchase another EV.

    • Dale Dale on Jan 29, 2022

      Maybe the 38% are the folks who got Fiat 500e’s or an equivalent. I believe those were underpowered and poorly ranged. I like driving our Tesla quite a bit. In the summer it can be a tough decision whether to go Model 3 or Miata when I need to drive somewhere. It’s a hoot.

  • Dusterdude Dusterdude on Jan 30, 2022

    For anyone that keeps a vehicle for 5 years or longer I would suggest waiting a few years more to buy an EV . A five year old EV has less retained value compared to a 5 year old ICE vehicle due to battery degradation concerns . The good news is EV battery life is improving ( along with the driving range we all look at )

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