The J.D. Power Initial Quality Study (IQS) is an annual report that’s closely followed by both automakers and consumers. It measures problems reported by vehicle buyers during the first 90 days of ownership. The research firm released its 2013 findings today at an Automotive Press Association luncheon in Detroit and the report was full of surprises.
IQS measures outright defects and other issues J.D. Power calls “design problems.” These troubles include things like navigation systems that are difficult to operate or rear seats that don’t fold easily. Interestingly so-called design problems are more troubling to consumers than actual defects because they’re something that can’t be fixed; buyers have to live with them for years. If a car’s alternator burns out the dealer can replace it under warranty, but if its door locks are located in an annoying position that can never be changed.
Automakers have been steadily improving reliability over the 27 years IQS has been published and it’s just about the best it’s ever been. The company measures quality by reporting problems per 100 vehicles (PP100). The industry average for 2013 was 113.
In spite of relentless improvement scores have gotten slightly worse this year. David Sargent, Vice President of Global Automotive at J.D. Power said “Quality is still incredibly important to consumers,” but “People are reporting more problems this year.” He explained that new technology is to blame. Hardware like engines and transmissions isn’t getting worse – they’re probably the best they’ve ever been – but in-vehicle electronics are a major source of headaches.
According to Sargent, “Two-thirds of the problems we measure today we consider design problems.” That means outright breakdowns have practically become a non-issue.
Unresponsive voice-recognition systems were the No. 1 thing consumers crowed about. “The hatred of poor performing voice-recognition systems is compelling” Sargent said. People also found Bluetooth phone paring to be extremely frustrating; it was the No. 2 thing they complained about.
Rounding out the top five list of troubles was excessive wind noise, something that Sargent said “is way lower than it used to be,” interior materials that scuff or soil easily and navigation systems that are difficult to use.
Clearly in-car technology is a major problem. In fact audio and entertainment issues comprised 22 percent of all problems reported. Sargent noted “[That’s] significantly more than any other category.”
As for manufacturer rankings Porsche beat all comers with just 80 problems reported per 100 vehicles. GMC impressed with a second-place finish and just 90 issues. Lexus, a perennial quality leader came in third place with 94 PP10. Sargent said “GMC has never been better than 9th and [this year] it’s second.”
“GM has a better score in the study than any other corporation” Sargent said. They took home eight vehicle awards; nobody else received more than three.
Another win for the Detroit three was Chrysler. The Pentastar brand jumped up 10 spaces, moving from 25th place last year to 15th. That works out to a PP100 score of just 109, better than average. Additionally “Town & Country is the best minivan in the industry” noted Sargent, beating the vaunted Honda Odyssey.
The Blue Oval on the other hand continues to have trouble with its MyFord Touch infotainment system. According to Sargent “[these] issues are still hurting their scores… but it is getting better.” He noted it will likely take a year or two for them to get back to normal.
Another surprise was Toyota’s youth-oriented Scion brand. It finished LAST out of all the nameplates surveyed. The company’s sporty FR-S coupe was to blame. It had a few issues including condensation in tail lamps and engine-idle woes, plus it didn’t fare well when it comes to design problems like cup holders and interior storage.
J.D. Power significantly redesigned the annual Initial Quality Study for 2013. They now query customers about advanced features like lane-departure warning and night vision, plus they’ve removed a few things. “We do not ask about cassette decks anymore” Sargent said sarcastically. Beyond these changes they no longer send out physical questionnaires to vehicle buyers. Like just about everything else they do it online.
For 2013 more than 83,000 people responded to their survey. It covered 23 brands, 209 vehicle models and 135 assembly plants, pretty much the entire automotive industry.
Top Three Models per Segment
Highest Ranked: smart fortwo
Highest Ranked: Mazda MAZDA2
Highest Ranked: Honda Civic
Compact Sporty Car
Highest Ranked: Mazda MX-5 Miata
Compact Premium Car
Highest Ranked: Acura TL
Compact Premium Sporty Car
Highest Ranked: Porsche Boxster
Highest Ranked: Toyota Camry
Midsize Sporty Car*
Highest Ranked: Chevrolet Camaro (tie)
Ford Mustang (tie)
Midsize Premium Car
Highest Ranked: Hyundai Genesis Sedan
Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedan/Wagon
Jaguar XF (tie)
Lexus GS (tie)
Midsize Premium Sporty Car*
Highest Ranked: Porsche 911
Highest Ranked: Chevrolet Impala
Chrysler 300 Series
Large Premium Car
Highest Ranked: Lexus LS
Top Three Models per Segment
CUV, MPV, Van, Pickup Segments
Highest Ranked: Buick Encore (tie)
Kia Sportage (tie)
Highest Ranked: Honda CR-V
Toyota FJ Cruiser
Compact Premium CUV
Highest Ranked: Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class
Highest Ranked: Kia Soul
Highest Ranked: Nissan Murano
Hyundai Santa Fe
Midsize Premium CUV
Highest Ranked: Infiniti FX
Highest Ranked: Chrysler Town & Country
Highest Ranked: Chevrolet Tahoe
Large Premium CUV*
Highest Ranked: Cadillac Escalade
Large Light Duty Pickup
Highest Ranked: Chevrolet Avalanche (tie)
GMC Sierra LD (tie)
Chevrolet Silverado LD
Large Heavy Duty Pickup*
Highest Ranked: Chevrolet Silverado HD
GMC Sierra HD
*No other model in this segment performs above segment average.