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2012 U.S. Initial Quality Study Results

By Jeff Youngs, June 20, 2012
Despite Challenges with In-Vehicle Technology, Automakers Post a Strong Improvement in Initial Quality

As auto manufacturers introduce increasingly sophisticated multimedia systems designed to enhance the ownership experience, owners are more frequently citing these systems as a source of quality problems, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2012 U.S. Initial Quality StudySM (IQS).

For the first time in the 26-year history of the study, owners report more problems related to audio, entertainment, and navigation systems than in any other vehicle area. This is driven in part by a rapid increase in the fitment of new technology, such as voice recognition, on mainstream models.

"Until recently, this type of sophisticated technology was found primarily on high-end models" said David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power and Associates. "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."

Specifically, the number of owner-reported problems with factory-installed hands-free communication devices has increased 137 percent during the past four years. In fact, hands-free devices not recognizing commands has become the most-often-reported problem in the industry.

"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 Sargent. "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 quickly and easily get it to work."

The Initial Quality Study, now in its 26th year, serves as the industry benchmark for new-vehicle quality measured at 90 days of ownership. The study is used extensively by manufacturers worldwide to help them design and build better models and by consumers to help them in their vehicle purchase decisions.

Initial quality has been shown throughout the years to be an excellent predictor of long-term durability, which directly impacts consumer purchase decisions. The study captures problems experienced by owners in two distinct categories: design-related problems and defects and malfunctions.

Other key findings from the 2012 Initial Quality Study include:

  • Overall initial quality for the industry improves by 5 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) to average 102 PP100 in 2012--an improvement of 5 percent from 2011.
  • There are year-over-year improvements in most areas of initial quality, with one notable exception--audio, entertainment, and navigation problems have increased by 8 percent from 2011. This continues a recent trend, as problems in this category have increased by 45 percent since 2006 while other categories have improved by 24 percent, on average.
  • Of the 34 brands ranked in the 2012 IQS, 26 have improved from 2011, five have declined, one scores the same as in 2011, and two were not included in the 2011 study.
  • Of the 185 models ranked in both the 2012 and 2011 IQS, 65 percent have improved.
  • The average quality of all-new or redesigned models improves 12 percent compared with 2011, with 11 all-new or redesigned models performing better than their segment average.
  • Lexus is the highest-ranked nameplate in the industry for a second consecutive year, averaging 73 PP100. With 75 PP100 each, Jaguar and Porsche follow Lexus in a tie to rank second.
  • Jaguar posts the largest improvement in the study--reducing problems by 39 PP100 and moving from the 20th rank position in 2011. Cadillac (80 PP100) and Honda (83 PP100) round out the top five rank positions.
  • Among the 21 model-level segment awards, Ford and Lexus receive three each. Ford earns awards for the Expedition, Mustang and Taurus, and Lexus garners awards for the ES, LS and RX. Receiving two segment awards each are Infiniti (EX-Series, M-Series); Nissan (Frontier, Quest); and Toyota (Corolla, Yaris). The Porsche 911 ranks highest in the premium sporty segment and achieves 44 PP100, the lowest PP100 score since the study was redesigned in 2006.
  • Also receiving segment awards are the Buick Enclave; Cadillac Escalade; Chevrolet Malibu; GMC Sierra 1500; Honda CR-V; Kia Soul; Mazda MX-5 Miata; and Volvo C70.

Plant Assembly Line Quality Awards
Honda Motor Company's Suzuka 3, Mie (Sss) plant in Japan, which produces the Honda CR-Z and Fit, receives the Platinum Plant Assembly Line Quality Award for producing models yielding the fewest defects or malfunctions. Plant awards are based solely on average levels of defects and malfunctions and exclude design-related problems.

Among plants in the North/South Americas region, Toyota's Cambridge (Ontario) South plant, which produces the Lexus RX, receives a Gold Plant Assembly Line Quality Award.

In the Europe and Africa region, Volvo receives a Gold Plant Assembly Line Quality Award for the Uddevalla, Sweden, plant, which produces the Volvo C70 in a joint venture with Pininfarina.

Consumer Tips
Based on the most frequently cited problems in the 2012 U.S. Initial Quality Study (IQS), J.D. Power and Associates offers to consumers the following to consider before purchasing a new vehicle:

  • Ask your salesperson to assist you in connecting your mobile device to the vehicle's communication system to test for a good hands-free connection, and to make sure the system recognizes your commands.
  • During the test drive, turn off all heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) and audio controls and pay close attention to wind and road noise levels inside the cabin. If the noise level is too high for your liking, consider purchasing a different model.
  • Familiarize yourself with the vehicle's HVAC and audio/entertainment controls, making sure they are easy to see and use, and that they are in a good location.
  • If you are test driving a vehicle with an automatic, auto-manual or continuously variable transmission (CVT), check for any hesitation or delay between gears.

About the Study
The 2012 U.S. Initial Quality Study is based on responses from more than 74,000 purchasers and lessees of new 2012 model-year cars, trucks and multi-activity vehicles surveyed after 90 days of ownership. The study is based on a 228-question battery designed to provide manufacturers with information to facilitate identification of problems and drive product improvement. The study was fielded between February and May 2012.

For a complete listing of all 2012 Initial Quality Study model-level segment award recipients, please visit www.jdpower.com/quality.

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