2014 U.S. Initial Quality Study Results

Jeff Youngs | Jun 18, 2014

The addition of the latest and hottest technology sometimes leads to increased problems with brand-new vehicles, according to the just-published J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Initial Quality StudySM (IQS). The study, now in its 28th year, examines problems experienced by vehicle owners during the first 90 days of ownership. The study determines initial quality according to the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles (PP100), with a lower score reflecting higher quality.

Overall initial quality in the 2014 IQS measures 116 PP100, a slight increase in problems from 113 PP100 in 2013. This year's increase in problems follows a similar increase found in the J.D. Power U.S. 2014 Vehicle Dependability StudySM (VDS), released in February, which measures problems experienced after three years of ownership.

New Tech Features Often Cause Quality Issues

The study attributes this increase in problems to the fact that new, more sophisticated technologies have been introduced in several newly launched models (i.e. those that are completely new to the market or have undergone major redesigns). They are more problematic than "carryover" vehicles (those that did not undergo any significant changes from last year's model to this year's). This year's IQS finds newly launched models experience an average of 128 PP100, compared with 113 PP100 for carryover models. The increase in problems among all-new models are seen mainly in the areas of voice recognition, Bluetooth pairing, and audio systems.

"Automakers are trying to give consumers the new features and technology they want without introducing additional quality problems into their vehicles," said David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power. "However, almost all automakers are struggling to do this flawlessly with some consumers indicating that the technology is hard to understand, difficult to use, or simply does not always work as designed."

Severe Weather a Factor in the Northeast and Midwest

The harsh winter of 2014 may have contributed to the increase in reported problems. Consumers in the Northeast and Midwest--the regions hardest hit with winter weather--experienced 117 PP100 in 2014, compared with 112 PP100 in 2013. Much of that increase comes from problems with areas most affected by rough weather: heating/ventilation/air conditioning, vehicle exterior, and engine/transmission. Consumers in the South and West regions experienced the same level of problems as in 2013: 114 PP100.

"Automakers test vehicles in extreme conditions to ensure they function properly," said Sargent. "However, it is impossible to completely negate the effects of severe weather. Heating and ventilation systems have more work to do, engines and transmissions aren't as smooth when cold, and exterior moldings and paint all take some punishment. Consumers generally understand this but still report problems when their vehicle does not wholly live up to their expectations."

A Single Problem Can Affect Brand Loyalty

The study also finds that the fewer problems owners experience with their vehicle, the greater their loyalty to the brand. Combined data from previous years' IQS results and the Power Information Network(R) (PIN) from J.D. Power show that 58% of owners who experienced no problems stayed with the same brand when they purchased their next new vehicle. Brand loyalty slips to 53% among owners who experienced just a single problem, and to 48% among owners who experienced two or more problems.

"Even problems experienced in the first 90 days correlate strongly with ultimate repurchase behavior," said Sargent. "These early problems can set the tone for the entire ownership period and still have an effect years later when consumers replace their vehicle."

Porsche Leads All Brands in Initial Quality

For a second consecutive year, Porsche ranks highest in initial quality among all nameplates, with a score of 74 PP100. Following Porsche in the rankings are Jaguar (87 PP100), Lexus (92 PP100), Hyundai (94 PP100), and Toyota (105 PP100).

General Motors, also for a second straight year, leads all other automakers in segment awards. GM receives six segment awards in the 2014 IQS: for the Buick Encore (tie); Chevrolet Malibu; Chevrolet Silverado HD; Chevrolet Suburban (tie); GMC Terrain; and GMC Yukon (tie). Hyundai Motor Company receives five awards: for the Hyundai Accent; Hyundai Elantra; Hyundai Genesis; Kia Cadenza; and Kia Sportage (tie). Other automakers with multiple award recipients are Ford Motor Company (Ford Edge, Ford F-150, and Lincoln MKX); Nissan Motor Company (Infiniti QX50, Infiniti QX80, and Nissan Juke [tie]); Volkswagen AG (Porsche 911, Porsche Boxster, and Porsche Panamera); Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Challenger); and Mazda (Mazda 5 and Mazda MX-5 Miata). Awards also go to the Honda Ridgeline and Lexus ES.

Toyota Receives Top Plant Quality Award

Toyota Motor Corporation's Cambridge South, Ontario, Canada (TMMC) plant, which produces the Lexus RX, receives the Platinum Plant Quality Award for producing models that yield the fewest defects or malfunctions. Plant quality awards are based solely on defects and malfunctions and exclude design-related problems.

Two sister plants receive the Gold Plant Quality Award in the Asia Pacific region. Toyota's Kyushu 1, Japan plant produces the Lexus CT and RX; Toyota's Kyushu 2 plant produces the Lexus ES, IS, and RX. In the Europe and Africa region, Porsche AG receives the Gold Plant Quality Award for its Leipzig, Germany, plant, which produces the Porsche Cayenne and Panamera.

Consumer Tips

Based on the 2014 IQS, J.D. Power offers the following consumer tips:
  • If you're thinking about buying an all-new or extensively redesigned model but are concerned about the vehicle's initial quality, consider waiting until its second year, by which time the manufacturer will likely have addressed any early issues.
  • Before adding a high-tech option, consider whether you're likely to use it often enough to make the cost worthwhileand find out to what degree the technology has been perfected.
  • Keep informed of which makes and models consistently win awards for quality and dependability, which is a good prognosticator of ownership satisfaction.

About the Study

The 2014 U.S. Initial Quality Study is based on responses from more than 86,000 purchasers and lessees of new 2014 model-year vehicles surveyed after 90 days of ownership. The study is based on a 233-question battery designed to provide manufacturers with information to facilitate the identification of problems and drive product improvement. The study was fielded between February and May 2014.

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