Electric cars are no longer road-going oddities. They are common enough on U.S. streets that they no longer warrant singling out, though many still gawk at every passing Tesla. And that’s a sign that the conversation is still nonetheless dominated by vehicles with big personalities, like Elon Musk’s futuristic lineup, as well as other sensational models like the reborn Hummer and the one they call a Mustang.

No one, for example, talks about the Kia Niro EV, an electric SUV that doesn’t have an iconoclast hype man or legendary name, but does have an impressive 239-mile range, affordable price point (starting at $39,090) and industry leading warranty (10 years/100K miles) that trounces the competition. Its relative obscurity may soon change, as the Niro EV has been chosen as the favorite among Americans who actually own and drive electric cars.

That’s according to the newly released Electric Vehicle Experience Ownership Study, put out by J.D. Power. It’s the first data of its kind the company has collected on EV ownership; back in October and November 2020, J.D. Power surveyed 9,632 owners of 2015-2021 model year battery electric cars (those that rely solely on electric power) as well as plug-in hybrids. They separated the results between “premium” and “mass market” vehicles. While it’s no wonder Tesla scored top marks in the former category (thanks in large part to company’s outsized brand loyalty), the winner of the latter was Kia’s humble Niro.

“The overall EVX ownership index score measures electric vehicle owners’ satisfaction (on a 1,000-point scale) in premium and mass market segments across seven factors: accuracy of stated battery range; availability of public charging stations; battery range; cost of ownership; driving enjoyment; ease of charging at home; and vehicle quality and reliability,” J.D. Power explained in a press release. The Tesla Model S won the premium segment with 798 points, while the Kia Niro EV won the mass market with 782 points. No other brand in the premium category scored above 700, though the Chevy Bolt (745), Hyundai Kona (743) and Nissan Leaf (712) all ran the Niro relatively close.

Following are key findings of the 2021 study:

  • It’s mostly about range: When deciding which electric vehicle to buy, the most-often-cited factor in the purchase decision is battery and driving range. Even after the purchase is made, range is still a critical element of the ownership experience. In both premium and mass market segments, accuracy of the stated battery range and actual battery range experienced by the owner account for about 20% of owners’ overall satisfaction. “Even though most owners drive less than the stated range of their vehicle’s battery, they still want to know that the actual battery range is close to the stated battery range,” Gruber said. “It’s still about peace of mind.”
  • Where to plug in: The public charging infrastructure is a key determinant of satisfaction for EV owners of both premium and mass market brands, yet significant differences exist between the two groups. Satisfaction among owners of premium battery electric vehicles (BEVs) with availability of public charging is 235 points higher than among owners of mass market BEVs, largely due to Tesla owners’ higher level of satisfaction with the Tesla public charging network. Regionally, satisfaction with the availability of public charging infrastructure is highest in the West (616) and lowest in the West North Central region (563), which includes Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. Satisfaction with the availability of public charging is 305 points higher among Tesla owners than among owners of other brands.
  • Driving enjoyment vs. quality concerns: While driving enjoyment varies significantly by segment (892 for premium BEV and 758 for mass market BEV), only in the mass market segment does driving enjoyment outweigh quality and reliability. Quality and reliability is the most important factor of the premium electric vehicle ownership experience. It’s notable that, while Tesla is seen to have poor quality, Tesla owners are more highly satisfied overall, indicating their willingness to overlook quality problems.
  • Show me the savings: Owners of both premium and mass market EVs agree on one reason for choosing electrification over internal combustion engines (ICE): the expected lower operating costs of an electric vehicle. Cost of ownership is a key driver in the purchase of an EV that typically has fewer parts to maintain, has less frequent service requirements and results in lower fuel costs than ICE vehicles.

In Car and Driver’s review of the Niro EV, they said it “isn’t an exciting option in the EV marketplace, but it is a great choice for buyers that are looking for an affordable and environmentally friendly vehicle.” But even for those who don’t list “lower total carbon emissions” at the top of their car-buying checklist, the J.D. Power survey made it clear that eco-friendliness isn’t the only reason drivers are warming up to vehicles like the electric Niro.

“Cost of ownership is a key driver in the purchase of an EV that typically has fewer parts to maintain, has less frequent service requirements and results in lower fuel costs than ICE vehicles,” the press release said.

While the Kia Niro EV may not yet be on par with its gas-powered counterparts in the purchase price, once you factor in the lifetime cost of the vehicle (gas, oil changes, tuneups), it’s certainly in the same ballpark — and American drivers are waking up to that fact.

This article is from InsideHook, written by Alex Lauer