The J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey – And Why It is Not Important

By Jerry Reynolds
June 23, 2014

The annual J. D. Power Initial Quality Survey just came out and, as always, the automotive media goes crazy reporting the findings. The automakers that score well immediately put their public relations teams into high gear to let everyone know how great they did. The car companies that scored poorly or dropped in the ranking just do not say anything. It happens every year, and this one is no different.

So what conclusions can you draw from the findings? If you ask me, I say none. I find the survey to be irrelevant and much ado about nothing.

The survey gauges “quality” in the first 90 days of ownership. Is that what is important to most buyers, or is it how well the car performs over the next few years? Does an early visit back to a dealership’s service department mean you have a bad car? The answer is no…it could be the dealer did a lousy job prepping the car.

The bigger problem here is the methodology of the survey. There is no weight given for the severity of the problems. Case in point, if vehicle #1 gets taken back for an ashtray that rattles, and vehicle #2 has a complete transmission failure, they both count the same.

For 2014, Porsche topped this year’s list and ended up at only 74 problems reported out of 100 vehicles. Jaguar came in second place with 82 problems per 100 vehicles, Lexus third with 92, and Hyundai fourth with 94. So we have four very different cars topping the list this year, three of them in the luxury category. Are luxury cars that much better? Do the dealers do a better job checking the cars before delivery? Are luxury car owners more likely to let problems go because they are too busy to return to the dealership? Or since luxury car dealers make service so easy, are the owners more forgiving? All of those factors could affect the survey results.

The industry average was 116 problems per vehicle, up from 113 in 2013. There were 10 automakers between 105 problems per vehicle and 115 problems per vehicle, and some brands I consider to be top notch, like Audi, Mercedes, Acura, Lincoln, and Toyota, to name a few.

So the BIG question is; is this statistically viable to make a car buying decision on? I certainly can’t make a case for it. You have to wonder too, how did Acura score so low, and Honda so high? Could it be Acura has more gadgets people don’t understand?

Ford came up to industry average in this last survey with some consumers still complaining about the MyTouch telematics system that has since been fixed. I truly think people just don’t take the time to learn the system. GM fared well with Cadillac, Chevy, and GMC scoring better than industry average. Pulling up last place were Mitsubishi, Jeep, and Fiat. As someone who talks to a lot of car buyers, I can tell you Jeep, Subaru, Mazda, and Mini do not deserve to be in the bottom third. There is a flaw in the system somewhere.

I would like to see J.D. Power add some weight to major problems, instead of seeing small problems and car gadgets count the same as large ones. I hear people complain about fuel economy all the time, and that will count as one problem even though the mileage will most likely improve later, and if you get one bad part on a car that is widespread, it can crater a car in this survey.

Sorry, I don’t see how this survey means anything except PR for J.D. Power & Associates.

1 Comment
  1. Richard Klima 3 years ago

    I agree with you Jerry. The problem with surveys is that somebody has to be first and somebody has to be last. However, there is just not much difference between first and last. They make a bid deal about it. Porsche is first at 86 defects per 100 cars. Well, that is .86 Conversely, Fiat at the bottom is 161 per 100 cars. That is 1.61 per car. Like you say, we do not know what type of defect.
    Consumer Reports is just about as irrelevant.

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