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2013 U.S. Initial Quality Study Results

By Jeff Youngs, June 19, 2013
J.D. Power has released the results of its latest Initial Quality Study (IQS), the company's industry benchmark study that measures new-vehicle quality after the first 90 days of ownership. A key finding of this year's study is that nearly two-thirds of the problems experienced in the first 90 days of ownership are related to the vehicle's design, as opposed to components that malfunction. For example, the component may be working as designed, but owners deem it a problem because it may be difficult to understand or operate.

"Automakers are investing billions of dollars into designing and building vehicles and adding technologies that consumers desire and demand, but the risk is that the vehicle design, or the technology within the vehicle, in some cases may not meet customer needs," said David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power. "Keep in mind that automakers are trying to design vehicles that appeal to a broad array of consumers, and what works for the majority may not work for all. The successful companies will be those automakers that find a way to give customers the technology they want while at the same time making it sufficiently intuitive so all customers find it easy to use."

Demand for Technology Presents Challenge for Automakers
The study finds that many of the problems owners have with their vehicle relate to the driver interface, which includes voice-recognition or hands-free technology, Bluetooth pairing for mobile phones, and the navigation system, among others. According to Sargent, some of these problems may be mitigated at the time of purchase by the salesperson explaining how to use the technology, and others may be remedied with software changes. However, features that are difficult for owners to operate, hard to understand, or inconveniently located in the vehicle likely will remain a problem for the life of the vehicle.

"Owners desire, and in some cases are demanding, more content in their new vehicles, especially technology-related features, and automakers are trying to provide it," said Sargent. "The majority of owners don't experience problems, but those who do are frustrated. That's understandable, especially when owners often keep their new vehicle for five years or more. In contrast, when consumers have a problem with their smartphone, they are likely to replace the phone much sooner."

The majority of problems owners experience with their new vehicle in the first 90 days of ownership are design-related rather than manufacturing defects. These design problems are far less likely to be successfully resolved at the dealership than are defects, according to the study.

Porsche Leads Brand Rankings, Two GM Brands among Top Five
Porsche ranks highest among nameplates included in the 2013 IQS, with an average of 80 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100). GMC ranks second with 90 PP100, and Lexus ranks third with 94 PP100. Infiniti (95 PP100) and Chevrolet (97 PP100) round out the top five. Overall initial quality for the industry averages 113 PP100.

Among specific models, the Lexus LS achieves 59 PP100, the best score of any model in this year's study. It also ranks highest in the Large Premium Car segment.

Also receiving segment awards are the Acura TL; Buick Encore (tie); Cadillac Escalade; Chevrolet Avalanche (tie); Chevrolet Camaro (tie); Chevrolet Impala; Chevrolet Silverado HD; Chevrolet Tahoe; Chrysler Town & Country; Ford Mustang (tie); GMC Sierra LD (tie); Honda Civic; Honda CR-V; Hyundai Genesis Sedan; Infiniti FX; Kia Soul; Kia Sportage (tie); Mazda 2; Mazda MX-5 Miata; Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class; Nissan Murano; Porsche 911; Porsche Boxster; Smart Fortwo; and Toyota Camry.

Based on the results of the study, J.D. Power offers the following consumer tips:
  • During the purchasing process, ask the salesperson to explain the differences in design between the model you're looking at, its competitors, and previous years of the same model.
  • Ask the salesperson to thoroughly explain and demonstrate features with which you're not familiar. This is especially important regarding the driver interface.
  • Test the voice-recognition and hands-free technology in every vehicle you're considering. Be certain you're comfortable using it before you decide to buy.
  • Review the owner's manual of every vehicle you're considering. Do this with the salesperson present so they can answer your questions.
  • If you're looking for a new vehicle, read up on the latest automotive technologies so you'll understand what's available before you enter the showroom.

About the Study
The J.D. Power 2013 Initial Quality StudySM represents the first year of a redesigned study; thus, results from this year's study can't be directly compared with those of previous studies. Among other changes, the 2013 study employs an online survey, which allows for more detailed feedback from new-vehicle owners. The 2013 IQS is based on responses from more than 83,000 purchasers and lessees of new 2013 model-year cars, trucks and multi-activity vehicles to a battery of 233 questions. Participants are surveyed after 90 days of ownership, and the questions are designed to provide manufacturers with information to facilitate identification of problems and drive product improvement. The study was fielded between February and May 2013.

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