The results of the 2011 J. D. Power and Associates U.S. Initial Quality Study (IQS) have just been released and while the news is good for the industry overall, the latest IQS did show consumers reported more issues with the quality of "launch models" -- vehicles that are all-new or substantially revised -- than in the previous year. A major portion of their ire was directed at what they perceived as flawed implementation of new and allegedly improved hardware and software elements.
On the most basic level, Power's latest IQS revealed that the industry average actually improved, with the benchmark problems-per-100 vehicles index (PP100) decreasing from 111 in 2010 to just 107 for 2011. Lexus emerged victorious in the battle of the brands for the fourth consecutive year with a PP100 score of 73 and the LS line repeated as the top-rated individual offering with a stellar PP100 score of 54. Other manufacturers in the exclusive double-digit PP100 zone included Honda (86), Acura (89) and Mercedes-Benz (94). Rounding out the top 10 were Mazda (100), Porsche (100) Toyota (101), Infiniti (102), Cadillac (103), and GMC (104), the only other automakers to earn scores above the industry average. Most notable among that group was Honda, which rose from sixth place in 2012 to record its best-ever IQS result and garner seven individual best-in-segment honors. Toyota also came back strong, overcoming its first-ever below-average rating in the 2010 IQS to grab seventh spot. The biggest drop in IQS ranking was suffered by Ford, which tumbled from fifth place last year to twenty-third in 2011, with a PP100 index of 116.
While "new" still plays a pivotal role in winning the hearts and wallets of consumers, David Sargent, vice president of global vehicle research at J.D. Power and Associates points out that "Automakers must not lose their focus on the importance of these models also achieving exceptional quality levels." The IQS results showed that buyers were decidedly less impressed with the latest class of launch vehicles. Unlike carryover product whose PP100 index decreased from 108 to 103, the launch vehicles saw their PP100 stats rise from 111 in 2010 to 122 this year, and only seven managed a top three ranking in their respective segments versus 17 in 2010. While the new Hyundai Equus and Dodge Durango were singled out for merit, both could only secure second-in-class honors.
Sargent noted the two prime sources of customer irritation in 2011 launch vehicles revolved around econo-tuned transmission control software that tended to create hesitation when accelerating or changing gears and in-car connectivity/multimedia systems that buyers deemed a good deal less user-friendly and/or intuitive than manufacturers did.
"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." Indeed, the Power data attributed a significant part of Ford's slide in the 2011 IQS standings to user complaints about its new MyFord Touch system that's amazingly capable but needs a bit of help in the man-machine interaction arena---something Ford admits that it's already working to improve.
The J.D. Power annual IQS is compiled using data culled from a 228-question survey that was completed by over 73,000 buyers/lessees of 2011 model cars, trucks and multi-activity vehicles. It covers design-related problems and defects/malfunctions encountered during the first three months of ownership and then tabulates the responses to generate a problems-per-100 vehicle (PP100) score. Complete results of the 2011 J. D. Power and Associates U.S. Initial Quality Study are available at www.jdpower.com.