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Global car quality rises, despite tech headaches

Top spot: Lexus took overall IQS honours for the second year running, with its RX series winning the mid-size premium crossover/SUV category ahead of the Infiniti FX and Cadillac SRX.

Lexus tops initial quality study as multimedia tech singled out as ongoing problem

21 Jun 2012

AS THE American motor industry moves into a recession-shrugging higher gear, the authoritative JD Power and Associates Initial Quality Study (IQS) has found the overall quality of vehicles sold in the US to have improved almost five per cent for the 2012 model year.

The industry average of 102 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) encountered in the first 90 days of ownership is down from 107 PP100 last year and represents the third successive improvement and the biggest single leap since 2009, when the PP100 rating fell 10 points from 118 to 108.

Although there are some worrying signs for individual brands, study results released overnight indicate that the global auto industry, as demonstrated by new vehicles sold in the US, is churning out higher quality cars than ever before, with year-on-year gains in most areas of initial quality.

However, there is one notable exception: audio, entertainment and navigation problems have increased eight per cent from last year.

According to JD Power, this marks the deepening of a recent trend as car manufacturers introduce increasingly sophisticated multimedia systems – rapidly installing new technology such as voice recognition on mainstream models – and owners subsequently report related problems.

Indeed, problems in this category have increased 45 per cent since 2006, while other categories have seen problems reduce by an average of 24 per cent.

 center imageFrom top: Porsche 911 Jaguar XF Infiniti M.

Factory-fitted hands-free devices are the biggest area of concern, with owner-reported problems (such as not recognising commands) increasing 137 per cent over the past four years.

“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,” said JD Power and Associates vice-president of global automotive, David Sargent.

“Auto-makers 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.”

Mr Sargent said more than 80 per cent of consumers surveyed for this year’s study indicated their vehicle had some form of hands-free technology.

Lexus topped the IQS overall brand rankings for the second year in a row with 73 problems per 100 vehicles – the same number as last year – with Porsche, which has been at or near the top of the table for many years, sharing second position on 75 PP100 with Jaguar.

Significantly, Jaguar posted the biggest improvement in the study, reducing problems by a whopping 39 PP100 to move from 20th position last year.

General Motors’ Cadillac brand was next best (80 PP100), ahead of Honda (83) and its Acura luxury brand (84), the Australia-bound Infiniti (84), Toyota (88), Mercedes-Benz (96), BMW and Mazda (97), and Nissan, GMC and Ram (99).

The only other brand to better the industry average was Chevrolet (100), which has the US-built Volt heading this way.

Below-par performances were put in by a number of premium and popular global brands including Audi (105), Hyundai and Kia (107), Volvo (108), Subaru (109), Jeep (110), Suzuki (115), Chrysler (116), Ford (118), Land Rover (119) and Dodge, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen (124).

BMW’s Mini brand had a disappointing 139 PP100, while Fiat and Smart were at the bottom of the table on 151 PP100.

Now in its 26th year, the JD Power IQS is based on responses to a 228-question survey of more than 74,000 purchasers or lessees of MY2012 vehicles.

The study, which was fielded between February and May this year, provides an important indication of design-related problems as well as defects and malfunctions that US motor vehicle owners have experienced, which in turn feeds directly into the car-makers’ product programs.

As well as scrutinising the American experience of global models that are directly applicable to Australia, the IQS assesses the quality of US-built vehicles that are increasingly sold here.

Although the scale is tiny compared to the Asia-Pacific region, VFACTS figures show a large increase in sales of vehicles imported from the US, with 9601 new registrations to the end of May representing a 42.3 per cent increase on 2011 – a year in which US vehicle sales climbed 32.9 per cent to 19,414.

This is up from 14,605 in 2010 and around 13,500 in 2007 and 2008.

Australia’s free-trade agreement with the US (signed in 2004), the rise of Dodge, strong Jeep sales post-GFC and increasing numbers of global manufacturers operating out of the US are all factors behind the rise in sales – a trend that will continue as Nissan and Toyota, to name two key players, look to send potentially high-volume new-generation SUVs this way.

The standout individual vehicle in this year’s IQS was the Porsche 911, which had only 44 problems per 100 vehicles, which is the lowest score since the study was redesigned in 2006 to include perceived design flaws.

Among 21 model segment awards, Lexus (with ES, LS and RX) and Ford (with Mustang, Taurus and Expedition) received three each, while earning two awards were Infiniti (EX and M), Nissan (Quest, Frontier) and Toyota (Corolla, Yaris).

JD Power also said that of the 185 models ranked in both the 2012 and 2011 IQS, 65 per cent had improved, while the average quality of all-new or redesigned models improved 12 per cent compared with 2011.

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