Pay No Attention to the Power Initial Quality Survey – Car Pro Commentary

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.

So what conclusions can you draw from the findings? For me, 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 how well the car performs over the next few years? Does an early visit back to a dealerships 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. As I explained on the air last Saturday, if vehicle #1 gets taken back for an ashtray that rattles, and vehicle #2 has a complete transmission failure, they both count the same.

Lexus topped this year’s list and ended up at only 73 problems reported out of 100 vehicles. Porsche and Jaguar tied for second place with 75 problems per 100 vehicles. So we have three very different luxury cars topping the list this year. 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? All of those factors could affect the survey results.

The industry average was 102 problems per vehicle, down from 107 in 2011. There were 8 automakers between 105 problems per vehicle and 110 problems per vehicle, and some brands I consider to be top notch, like Audi, Buick, Hyundai, Lincoln, and Subaru 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.
Toyota stayed in the same 6th position as they were in 2011. Ford fell in this last survey with consumers complaining about the MyTouch telematics system that has since been fixed. GM fared well with Cadillac, Chevy, and GMC scoring better than industry average. Pulling up last place were Smart, Fiat, and Mini. Can one conclude that most people just don’t like really small cars? There is something to this, you can ask most Mini owners and they’ll tell you their cars are virtually trouble free.

I would like to see J.D. Power add some weight to major problems instead of seeing small problems 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. John Woolery 5 years ago

    I often wondered at the “initial” quality survey. I want to know what is the quality after 15K, 20K, 25K etc. So it’s quality is good when you drive it off the lot. I was unsure how long the “initial quality” survey went. Sure it’s important that its quality is up at purchase, but I don’t drive a car for only 90 days. Glad to hear one “in the know” explain this to me and seem to understand.
    Good job Jerry, even if you are a Ford guy. 🙂

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