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J.D. Power ranks cars’ initial quality

By Claes Bell, CFA · Bankrate.com
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Posted: 7 am ET

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:

  1. Lexus: 73
  2. Honda: 86
  3. Acura: 89
  4. Mercedes-Benz: 94
  5. Mazda: 100
  6. Porsche: 100
  7. Toyota: 101
  8. Infiniti:102
  9. Cadillac: 103
  10. 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?

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5 Comments
LeRoy
June 29, 2011 at 2:47 am

I was born 1928 have had a lot of cars.Drive about 1000 miles a month.The cars in the 50 and 60 years with air and a radio that most of the time never turned on the way to work.or the store or shopping.Where well built and cheap to service. Could repair yoursel your self.You bought a car for needs.Its the buyers fault for letting the dealers pushing all the extra junk on us.when we quite bying them they will have to stop.

Fred
June 28, 2011 at 9:12 pm

I agree with Megan, there is too much stuff on cars today that are not really neccessary. The average car buyer would prefer a car with less stuff and a more affordable price. My preferences are power windows, A/C, a good radio/c.d.player/MP3 connection, window wipers w/delay. If a car mfg would make a basic car with good milage, comfortable seating and basic ammenities they would sell a bundle of them. There are only a select few who require the extras and they seem to control the car makers ideas of what we really want.

Meagan
June 27, 2011 at 6:15 pm

I agree with your dad that "its just more stuff to break." My first car was a hand-me-down Ford Taurus station wagon that had all the bells and whistles available at its production time. By the time I got it, about 8 years later, the gas gauge and speedometer did not work (they were electronic) neither did the tape player. Ever since then, I have intentionally looked for cars with more simplistic options since they seems to work better in the long run. I am not the type of person to get a new car every few years, so I would rather forgo the futuristic options to have less repairs.