Consumer Survey: New Car Quality at High Standards
The quality of new vehicles improved by 6 percent, the largest increase since 2009, according to the recent 2016 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study. And the good news for consumers is that more affordable non-premium brands had fewer problems than more expensive premium brands for the first time since 2006.
"Non-premium brands are adding a lot of new technology," said Renee Stephens, vice-president of U.S. automotive quality at J.D. Power. And it is advanced technology, such as blind-spot monitoring, low-speed collision avoidance, navigation systems, voice recognition, and touchscreens, which can and have caused problems. However, in this case, the non-premium brands are delivering the technology in a way that's intuitive to use and with quality, she said.
There used to be a mindset among consumers that, if they were going to get more features and function, they would have to pay extra for them. "That's becoming less and less the case," Stephens said, as these features and functions are within the reach of more consumers.
The study, which is now in its 30th year, looks at problems owners experience during the first 90 days of ownership. It covers "design" problems as well as "defects and malfunctions." Initial quality is determined by the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles, or PP100. The lower the score, the higher the quality.
The study is based on 233 questions organized into eight problem categories such as interior, exterior, driving experience, engine/transmission, and audio/communication/entertainment/navigation (ACEN). It is based on 80,000 owner responses and included 245 vehicle models.
This year, quality improved across all eight categories and 21 of 33 brands included in the study improved in quality, one remained the same, and 11 declined. The category related to the interior improved the most, which was driven by fewer problems in areas such as materials that scuff or soil easily and instrument panel squeaks and rattles. This year, non-premium brands had 104 PP100, while premium brands had 108 PP100.
For just the second time in the history of the study, U.S. domestic brands collectively had fewer problems than import brands combined. The last time that happened was in 2010. All three domestic automakers had a combined average of 103 PP100, which meant they improved 10 percent from 2015 when they had 114 PP100. That is double the improvement rate of the import brands, which had 106 PP100.
Among the domestic brands, Ford (including Lincoln) averaged 102 PP100; General Motors (Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC) averaged 97; and Fiat Chrysler Automotive (Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, and Jeep) averaged 115. According to the study, General Motors receives seven model level awards. Chrysler and Jeep were the most improved brands with each reducing the number of problems by 28 PP100 from last year.
European brands showed a 3 percent improvement, Japanese a 5 percent improvement, and South Korean brands a 3 percent improvement.
Kia topped the brand-ranking list with the highest quality with 83 PP 100. This is the first time in 27 years that a non-premium brand topped the rankings. It is also the second consecutive year that Kia, which ranked second last year, has led all non-premium makes in initial quality. Hyundai, its corporate partner, came in third with 92 PP100.
Porsche, which was first last year, was second with 84 PP100; Toyota was fourth (93) and fifth was BMW (94).
The industry average was 105 PP100, which was down from 112 last year.
Even with all the good news, the audio/communications/entertainment/navigation category gave consumers the most trouble for the fourth consecutive year, with 24 percent of all problems falling into that area, Stephens wrote in an e-mail. Voice recognition was the number-one problem in that category and Bluetooth pairing and connectivity issues were number two.
By Cheryl Jensen, for Motor Matters. Cheryl began writing about the auto industry in 1996. Her reports have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Better Homes and Gardens magazine. She has covered rallies in South America, Australia, the 1992 Paris-Moscow-Beijing Raid, and in 1996 was the first American woman to finish the Dakar Rally. She has a bachelor's degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Cheryl resides in New Hampshire.