2015 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study Results

Jeff Youngs | Feb 25, 2015

Consumers continue to clamor for cutting-edge technology in their new vehicles. But as this technology makes its way into today's new cars, trucks, SUVs, and vans, automakers are having difficulty maintaining long-term quality. In fact, problems with Bluetooth connectivity and voice recognition are the most frequently reported issues with light vehicles after three years of ownership, according to the J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study.SM

The study, now in its 26th year, examines problems experienced during the past 12 months by original owners of 2012 model-year vehicles. The study determines overall dependability by the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles (PP100), with a lower score reflecting higher quality. The overall industry performance in 2015 is 147 PP100.

The study examines 177 specific problem symptoms, grouped into eight major vehicle categories:
  • Exterior
  • Engine/Transmission
  • Audio/Communication/Entertainment/Navigation (ACEN)
  • Interior
  • The Driving Experience
  • Features/Controls/Displays (FCD)
  • Heating/Ventilation/Air Conditioning (HVAC)
  • Seats

The top two problems reported by owners in the study are Bluetooth pairing and connectivity, and built-in voice recognition systems misinterpreting the driver's commands. These were the same two problems most frequently reported by owners in last year's Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS).

Exterior, Powertrain Also Cause Concerns

One key finding of the 2015 VDS is that 55% of owners who experienced a Bluetooth pairing/connectivity problem reported that their vehicle's system would not recognize their phone, and 31% said the phone would not automatically connect when they entered the vehicle. Engine/transmission concerns also remain high, particularly for newly launched models, with nearly 30% of powertrain problems being attributed to automatic transmission hesitation and rough shifting.

Six of the 10 most frequently reported problems are design-related as opposed to defects or malfunctions. Although connectivity and voice recognition are, specifically, the most cited problems, the most frequently reported problem categories overall are vehicle exterior, followed by engine/transmission, and audio/communication/entertainment/navigation.

"As we've seen in our Initial Quality Study, technology issues with vehicles are viewed as significant problems by owners, and they typically don't go away after the honeymoon period of vehicle ownership is over," said Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. automotive at J.D. Power. "Furthermore, early indications from our upcoming 2015 Tech Choice StudySM show that consumer expectations of advanced technology capabilities are growing. Owners clearly want the latest technology in their vehicles, and they are particularly critical when it doesn't work. Their definition of dependability is increasingly influenced by usability."

"At the three-year point, many owners are thinking about replacing their vehicles, and we find that how they feel about their current vehicle's quality and dependability impacts their intent to consider the brand again," said Stephens. "Oftentimes issues owners experience can be resolved with a software update, or in the case of Bluetooth pairing problems, dealers can step in to help. In cases such as these, proactively reaching out to owners presents the opportunity for automakers and their dealers to engage with customers in a positive way."

According to the study, 56% of owners who experience no problems with their vehicle intend to purchase the brand next time, but that figure drops to 43% among owners who experience three or more problems. Fifteen percent of new-vehicle buyers indicate they avoided a model because it lacked the latest technological features: almost four times the 4% reported in the 2014 study.

Lexus, GM, Toyota Earn High Scores

Among all vehicle nameplates, Lexus ranks highest in vehicle dependability for a fourth consecutive year, with a score of 89 PP100. Buick follows Lexus with 110 PP100, moving up three rank positions from 2014. Next are Toyota (111), Cadillac (114), and Honda and Porsche (tied at 116). Notably, Scion (121 PP100) improved its performance by 13 rank positions from 2014, while Ram (134) improved 11 rank positions and Mitsubishi (140) climbed 10 positions.

Among manufacturer groups, General Motors (GM) and Toyota Motor Corp. (Toyota) each receive seven segment awards. GM models receiving awards include the Buick LaCrosse; Chevrolet Camaro; Chevrolet Malibu; Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD/3500HD; GMC Sierra 1500; GMC Terrain; and GMC Yukon. Toyota's award-winning models include the Lexus ES; Lexus GX; Scion tC; Scion xB; Scion xD; Toyota Corolla; and Toyota Sienna.

Tips for Finding a Dependable Vehicle

Based on the study, J.D. Power offers the following consumer tips for selecting a dependable vehicle:
  • Compare various automakers' proprietary connectivity technologies before making a purchase decision.
  • Check various consumer reporting services to see whether automakers differ significantly in the quality of their technology.
  • Make sure your dealer is aware of problems that might be reported, and knows how to address them.

About the Study

The 2015 Vehicle Dependability Study is based on responses from more than 34,000 original owners of 2012 model-year vehicles after three years of ownership. The study was fielded between November and December 2014.

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