In the depths of the Great Recession that threatened their very existence, automakers built better vehicles.
A lot better. The improvement in dependability of three-year-old 2009 vehicles from the year before was one of the biggest ever measured in the J.D. Power and Associates’ annual U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study.
Across the industry, owners reported an average of 132 problems per 100 in vehicles they had owned for three years, 13 percent fewer than the year before, said David Sargent, Power vice president of global automotive.
“Cars get better every year, but this year that improvement was even greater,” he said. “Despite all the turmoil, automakers were able to focus on building better vehicles.”
Of 32 brands measured, 25 improved vehicle dependability from the year before, one stayed even and six lost ground.
Luxury brands took the top three spots. Lexus owners reported the fewest problems after three years, 86 per 100; followed by Porsche and Cadillac. Lexus’ stablemates Toyota and Scion completed the top five.
The top 10 was rounded out by Mercedes-Benz, three other Detroit 3 brands — Lincoln, Ford and Buick – and Korean automaker Hyundai. Acura and Honda were the only others to finish below the industry average of 132.
The next five brands finished with fewer problems than last year’s industry average of 151: Chevrolet, Volvo, Audi, Smart and Subaru.
Chrysler Group’s four brands finished at the bottom of the list, with between 174 and 192 problems per 100, but Sargent cites them as an example of the industry’s continuous quality improvement over the past two decades.
“This was the worst possible place for Chrysler, with old vehicles developed without much money and on the brink of bankruptcy,” Sargent said. “And yet these vehicles would have been among the best cars just a few years earlier.”
Between October and December 2011, Power surveyed more than 31,000 U.S. owners of 2009 model-year vehicles. Those are vehicles sold in the quarter immediately following the September 2008 failure of investment bank Lehman Brothers, the trigger point of the auto sales collapse.