JD Power has released its annual Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS). In 2017, the average number of problems per 100 cars (PP100) increased to 156PP100, compared with 152PP100 in 2016 – for a second year of increasing problems. Luxury brands Lexus and Porsche took the top two spots, and technology-related issues continue to drive problems.
IHS Markit Perspective:
- Significance: JD Power's annual Vehicle Dependability Study gathers feedback from owners of three-year-old cars and tabulates results of consumer-reported problems over the prior 12 months. Problems range from mechanical issues to useability issues. Consumers use the advertised rankings when researching vehicle purchases.
- Implications: Similar to the past several years, 2017 results show that the number of problems with audio, communication, entertainment and navigation (ACEN) has increased. It now accounts for 22% of all customer-reported problems in the study, up from 20% last year, and is still the most problematic area on most vehicles. JD Power says technology-related issues are the cause of increased PP100. In terms of manufacturer results, Toyota earned 10 of 18 segment awards while GM earned four. Lexus held its position highest among all brands, while Fiat ranked at the lowest end.
- Outlook: Automakers are struggling to deliver the connectivity technology demanded by consumers at a level that matches expectations. Problems per 100 on average increased for the third year. JD Power noted that ten of the top-selling 2014 model-year products averaged 134PP100, compared with industry-wide average of 156PP100, suggesting that buyers respond to dependability metrics when purchasing vehicles.
The 2017 JD Power Vehicle Dependability Survey (VDS), conducted from October to December 2016, gathered feedback from more than 35,186 owners of 2014 model-year vehicles regarding the dependability of the vehicles they had owned for three years. This year's results were released today (22 February). The score is expressed as problems per 100 vehicles (PP100), with the average PP100 increasing to 156, compared with 152 in 2016 and 147 in 2015 results. The survey is in its 28th year. In 2014, JD Power said it enhanced the survey to "better measure the quality of today's vehicles, particularly related to new technologies being offered." Results from 2014 and earlier are not comparable, but in 2016 and 2017 there were steady increases in PP100 compared with 2015 results.
According to JD Powers' study, the problems most often reported by owners continues to be Bluetooth pairing/connectivity and built-in voice recognition systems misinterpreting commands. The audio/communication/entertainment/navigation (ACEN) area remains the most problematic, increasing to 22% of all problems, compared with 20% in 2016 results. Although the industry is getting better at preventing problems in traditional areas, Dave Sargent, vice-president of global automotive at JD Power told Automotive News that the industry is getting better and better at preventing problems with systems like suspensions or other mechanical issues. "These things are getting better, but it's being offset by all the technology that's being stuffed into our cars now," Sargent is quoted as saying. In the press statement announcing the results, JD Power focused on consumer reaction to dependability, with Sargent saying, "We find buyers are increasingly avoiding models with poor reputations for dependability, so manufacturers can't afford to let quality slip, particularly on their best sellers."
After noting a decline in engine/transmission problems, decreasing from 26PP100 to 24PP100 in the 2016 results, the company did not comment on the issue this year. Results in 2014 and 2015 had showed increased issues in those areas, largely related to automatic transmission hesitation and rough shifting.
Other findings include that seven of the top ten problems were design-related, according to JD Power, accounting for 39% of problems reported, up from 37% in 2015. The most identified Bluetooth and voice recognition problems were the vehicle not finding or recognising their mobile phone or device and the voice-recognition system not recognising or misinterpreting verbal commands.
In terms of manufacturer results, some brands saw PP100 increase. The Lexus brand retained its position as the most dependable, but PP100 increased for a second year, reaching 110 in 2017's study, compared with 95 in 2016 and 89 in 2015. Porsche tied with 110; compared with 2016 results, this was a reversal from 97. In 2015, JD Power reported a score of 116 PP100 for the brand. Buick fell to fourth – from third in 2016 and from second in 2015 – with 126 PP100 compared with 106PP100 a year ago. Toyota pulled ahead of Buick and took third (123 PP100 versus 113 in 2016). Mercedes-Benz pulled into the top five (131 PP100 versus 135 last year), regaining a place in the top ten as well as the top five. At the other end of the scale, the bottom four included Fiat (298 PP100 compared with 171 in 2016 results), Jeep (209 PP100 versus 181), Infiniti (203 PP100 versus 136), and Dodge (203 PP100 versus 208). Ram and Ford both tied at 183 PP100 in the 2017 results. FCA for another year found one of its brands ranking last and all below average.
In terms of segment rankings, Toyota and GM brands gathered the most awards. Toyota products took ten segments, while GM products took four—this was a much stronger showing for Toyota and a weaker showing for GM compared with last year. Car categories included Small Car (Chevrolet Sonic), Compact Car (Toyota Prius), Compact Premium Car (Lexus ES), Midsize Car (Toyota Camry), Midsize Sport Car (Chevrolet Camaro), Midsize Premium Car (Lexus GS), and Large Car (Toyota Avalon). In the SUV categories, top placements were earned by Volkswagen Tiguan (small SUV), Toyota FJ Cruiser (compact SUV), Mercedes-Benz GLK-class (compact premium SUV), Toyota Venza (midsize SUV), Lexus RX (midsize premium SUV) and Chevrolet Tahoe (large SUV). The top minivan was the Toyota Sienna and best compact MPV the Toyota Prius v, a repeat of 2016 results. Ford F-150 won large LD pickup and Chevrolet Silverado HD in large HD pickup; Midsize Pickup was added as well, with Honda Ridgeline taking the top spot.
JD Power also notes that there must be at least three models with 80% of market sales in any given award segment for the award to be presented. The segments that did not have enough vehicles for awards to be issued in the 2017 study included compact premium sporty car, compact sporty car, mid-size premium sporty car, large premium car and large premium SUV segments.
JD Power publishes this and many other quality and dependability studies of vehicles and other consumer goods and services, each year; the company noted that the rankings presented in this study are based on numerical scores, and are not necessarily statistically significant.
Outlook and implications
Automakers continue to struggle to deliver the connectivity technology demanded by consumers at a level that matches expectations, according to the latest JD Power Vehicle Dependability Study. Problems per 100 on average increased for the third consecutive year. JD Power noted that 10 of the top-selling 2014 model-year products averaged 134PP100, compared with industry-wide average of 156PP100, suggesting that buyers respond to dependability metrics when purchasing vehicles.
Over the past several years, vehicles and brands with increasing amounts of in-car infotainment and technology have been seeing difficult results from studies conducted by JD Power and by the Consumer's Union, which publishes Consumer's Reports. As the JD Power Vehicle Dependability Study interviews owners after three years of ownership, the vehicles in this study are from the 2014 model year. JD Power said the survey is based on responses from 35,186 owners of 2014 model-year vehicles after three years of ownership.
Execution of Bluetooth phone pairing and voice recognition systems have improved notably in more recent models; one might expect those measures will improve in future studies over the longer term, although that expectation did not bear out in the 2017 results. Issues with Bluetooth pairing and connectivity and built-in voice recognition misinterpreting commands are the problems most reported. In the nearer term, as systems are deployed across a greater number of vehicles, the impact was stronger on 2017 results than 2016, again. JD Power also noted that, for the first time, battery issues placed in the top ten list of problems. Batteries have become the most frequently replaced component not related to wear and tear in three-year-old vehicles, up 1.3% from 2016 to 6.1%. It may be that increases in technology are contributing to the problem, although this was not made clear through the study.
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