June 17, 2010
For decades German carmakers, then the Japanese, held the crown for the best in automotive quality. But now, for the first time, the best-made cars come from the U.S., according to J.D. Power and Associates' Initial Quality Study, conducted annually for the past 24 years.
Overall, the industry average for initial quality is 109 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) in 2010, increasing slightly from 108 PP100 in 2009. However, initial quality for U.S. brands as a whole has improved by 4 PP100 in 2010 to an average of 108 PP100. That's slightly better than the initial quality of import brands, which averages 109 PP100 in 2010.
Ford is responsible for much of the U.S. improvement. The Ford Focus made big improvements in the 2010 survey, but so did the Dodge Ram 1500 LD and Buick Enclave.
In particular, initial quality of Ford models has improved steadily for the past nine years, the survey shows. In addition, as a corporation, Ford Motor Company (including Volvo) has 12 models that rank within the top three in their respective segments in 2010-more than any other corporation.
General Motors Company has 10 models that rank within the top three in their segments.
Initial quality performance demonstrated by U.S. brands in 2010 contrasts sharply with consumer sentiment from one year ago. According to data collected by the J.D. Power Web Intelligence Division between May and July 2009, much of the online consumer discussion about automotive quality centered around the difficulties U.S. automakers were facing, and perceptions that these problems were largely caused by poor product quality.
"Domestic automakers have made impressive strides in steadily improving vehicle quality, particularly since 2007," said David Sargent, vice president of global vehicle research at J.D. Power and Associates. "This year may mark a key turning point for U.S. brands as they continue to fight the battle against lingering negative perceptions of their quality.
"However, there is still a long road ahead, and domestic manufacturers need to consistently prove to consumers that they can produce models with quality that equals or beats that of the import brands. Achieving quality comparability is the first half of the battle; convincing consumers-particularly import buyers-that they have done this is the second half."
According to J.D. Power's Web Intelligence Division, online consumer conversations about vehicle quality have recently shifted to a more concrete tone. In 2010, consumers are more often discussing quality as it applies to their own personal vehicle purchase decisions, rather than how domestic brands overall are affected by perceptions of low quality.
Initial quality of new models and major redesigns continues to improve in 2010, led by new launches from Ford, Honda, Lexus,Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.
The all-new Honda Accord Crosstour and the redesigned Ford Mustang, Ford Taurus and Lexus GX 460 each rank highest in initial quality in their respective segments. The Ford Fusion, Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe and Sedan and Porsche Panamera also launch with notably high initial quality levels.
Historically, newly launched models have incurred substantially more quality problems than carryover models, on average. However, more than one-half of all models launched during the 2010 model year perform better than their respective segment averages. In addition, 12 all-new and redesigned models rank within the top three in their respective segments. Meanwhile, initial quality of carryover and freshened models has declined for the 2010 model year.
"With automakers committing huge budgets for the design, engineering, production and marketing of all-new models and major redesigns, hitting the quality mark out of the gate is critical," said Sargent. "Getting initial quality right on model launches can serve dual purposes for automakers-boosting profitability and also inspiring consumer confidence in the overall quality of their models. Having a strong quality image is essential for automakers to be able to compete in today's market-both in the U.S. and around the globe."
The Initial Quality Study serves as the industry benchmark for new-vehicle quality measured at 90 days of ownership. The study is used extensively by manufacturers worldwide to help them design and build better vehicles and by consumers to help them in their vehicle purchase decisions.
Initial quality has been shown over the years to be an accurate predictor of long-term vehicle durability, which directly impacts consumer purchase decisions. The study captures problems experienced by owners in two distinct categories-design-related problems and defects and malfunctions.
Porsche leads the overall nameplate rankings, averaging 83 PP100. Following in the rankings are, respectively, Acura (which moves from 14th rank position in 2009 to second in 2010), Mercedes-Benz (which improves from sixth rank position in 2009 to third in 2010), Lexus and Ford (which moves into the top five for the first time since the inception of the study). MINI posts the largest improvement in 2010, reducing problems by 32 PP100 from 2009.
Toyota's problem count increases by 16 PP100, moving it from sixth rank position in 2009 to 21st in 2010.
"Clearly, Toyota has endured a difficult year," said Sargent. "Recent consumer concerns regarding Toyota's quality are reflected in the nameplate's performance in the 2010 study. That said, Toyota's success was built on a well-deserved reputation for quality, and there is little doubt that they will do everything possible to regain that reputation."
Ford and Lexus each garner three segment awards. Ford captures awards for the Focus, Mustang and Taurus, while Lexus receives awards for the GS, GX and LS models. The Lexus LS has the fewest quality problems in the industry, with just 55 PP100.
Chevrolet, Honda and Toyota receive two awards each. Chevrolet models earning awards are the Avalanche (in a tie) and the Tahoe. Honda receives awards for the Accord and the Accord Crosstour, while Toyota receives awards for the FJ Cruiser and Sienna.
Also receiving segment awards are: Acura RDX, Cadillac Escalade, GMC Sierra LD (in a tie), Hyundai Accent, Mazda MX-5 Miata, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Nissan Frontier, Scion xB and Volvo C70.