This week J.D. Power today released the 2011 edition of its annual Initial Quality Study, and the results look good for the auto industry as a whole. The main metric the study tracks, problems per 100 vehicles after 90 days of ownership, improved industry-wide, falling from an average of 109 to 107 (lower is better).
Japanese brands captured four of the top five spots in the study's brand rankings for initial quality. American brands did less well. Ford, which was near the top of the rankings last year, fell to 23rd overall, below both Chrysler and GM. Here were the top ten:
- Lexus: 73
- Honda: 86
- Acura: 89
- Mercedes-Benz: 94
- Mazda: 100
- Porsche: 100
- Toyota: 101
- Cadillac: 103
- GMC: 104
Despite an overall boost in initial quality, new and redesigned models suffered in the study, possibly because of the proliferation of electronic accessories buyers now expect in new vehicles. Only seven new or redesigned models made it into the top 3 in their vehicle category, down from 17 in 2010. From the J.D. Power press release:
The decline in vehicle launch quality is evident in a number of areas, most notably the engine/transmission and audio/entertainment/navigation categories. There are two primary causes for this quality decline:
- With high fuel prices and more stringent government regulations, automakers are designing engine and transmission software to make their models as economical as possible. However, this sometimes leads to the engine or transmission "hesitating" when accelerating or changing gears, and consumers this year are reporting this as a problem more often than in past years.
- Automakers are also accelerating the introduction of multimedia technology into their models, including hands-free and voice-activation systems. Many consumers are attracted by this type of technology, which is perceived to enhance convenience and safety, but some vehicle owners report that their system is not intuitive and/or does not always function properly.
"Clearly, consumers are interested in having new technology in their vehicles, but automakers must ensure that the technology is ready for prime time," said Sargent. "Successful companies will be those that can take this incredibly complex technology and make it reliable, seamless and easy for owners to operate while they are driving. There is an understandable desire to bring these technologies to market quickly, but automakers must be careful to walk before they run."
I've always been a little wary of trying to squeeze too many cutting-edge electronic options into cars; in my dad's words, "It's just more stuff to break." That may seem like a simplistic viewpoint, but it's hard to deny that the more complex a product is, the more opportunities there are for design and manufacturing errors.
We live in an age when people expect their vehicles to not only be transportation, but also navigator, DJ, secretary and who knows what else. Asking automakers to create vehicles that can perform all those roles perfectly, with a fresh redesign every four to six years, may be asking too much.
What do you think? Do modern cars have too many bells and whistles?