Lexus leads, Volkswagen struggles as technology causes headaches.
Lexus has topped a respected US quality survey for the second year running.
The survey showed that the quality of new cars is improving, but is being hamstrung by reliability problems with technology.
There was an unprecedented jump in quality issues reported with audio, entertainment and navigation systems, which for the first time in the study’s 26-year history outnumbered problems reported in any other area.
It’s the second consecutive year Lexus has led the J.D Power Initial Quality Survey, which measures customer impressions of quality after 90 days of ownership and is based on the results of a 228-question survey filled out by 74,000 US car buyers. Although the results aren't directly relevant to the Australian market because the cars are US models, they do give a good thumbnail sketch of brand quality. Car makers in Australia take part in a similar quality survey but refuse to allow the results to be made public.
Lexus scored an industry-leading 73 on a scale of problems per 100 vehicles, while Jaguar and Porsche tied for second on 75. The industry average this year was 102 problems per 100 vehicles, an improvement from 107 last year. Fifteen manufacturers bettered the industry average this year and 19 were below it.
Jaguar was the big improver, jumping to second place from 20th. Overall 26 of the 34 brands in the survey improved their score over last year, five declined, one was steady and two brands entered the 2012 survey for the first time.
While Lexus was the dux of the survey, the Fiat and Smart brands tied for last place. Each had roughly double the number of faults reported by Lexus owners. Mini was third last, while Volkswagen, Dodge and Mitsubishi also languished near the bottom of the table.
Problems with audio, entertainment and navigation systems are proving a huge bugbear for the industry. Since 2006 there has been a 45 per cent increase in related issues, running counter to a 24 per cent improvement elsewhere in the survey.
J.D. Power and Associates vice president of global automotive David Sargent says the problems encountered predominantly in the area of connectivity were once the sole domain of high-end luxury cars.
“However, over the past few years it has rapidly found its way into the automotive mainstream. For example, in 2012, more than 80 percent of owners indicate that their new vehicle has some form of hands-free technology,” he says.
The number of owner-reported problems with factory-installed hands-free communication devices has increased by 137 per cent during the past four years. Hands-free devices not recognising commands is now the most-often-reported problem.
“As smartphones become ubiquitous in the lives of consumers and are ever-more sophisticated, expectations about the complementary technologies being offered in new models will only get higher,” Sargent says.
“Automakers and suppliers are working hard to meet those expectations with systems intended to make the driving experience safer, more convenient and more entertaining. However, the most innovative technology in the world will quickly create dissatisfaction if owners can't get it to work.”
Ford in particular has suffered a slide down the quality ratings as a result of gremlins with its MyFord technology. It has slipped from 5th place in 2010 to 27th this year.
The survey also awards specific models within their segments, with Lexus and Ford each winning three categories of the 21 contested.
Lexus won with its RX SUV (mid-size premium crossover class), ES350 (entry premium) and LS (large premium). Ford saluted with the Taurus (large car), Mustang (mid-size sporty car) and Expedition (large crossover/SUV).
The Taurus is thought be a possible replacement for the Ford Falcon, which is not expected to be built beyond 2016.
Infiniti collected two category awards with the M Series (mid-size premium car) that is shortly to debut in Australia and its EX (premium crossover/SUV). The Chevrolet Malibu, which will be introduced in Australia later this year as the Holden Malibu, won the competitive mid-size class.