Lexus Keeps Crown in Reliability Survey

Date: 13-02-2014
Source: The Wall Street Journal

car reliabilityAmericans hate spending money on gasoline, but a study out Wednesday suggests they also get annoyed by the technology required to deliver a more efficient car. For the first time in more than 15 years, owners of three-year old cars are reporting more problems than similar owners were a year ago.

J.D. Power’s 2014 Vehicle Dependability Study found that owners of 2011-model cars and trucks reported 133 problems per 100 vehicles, up from an average of 126 problems per 100 for the 2010 models covered by last year’s edition of the study.

The 2014 study is the first time since 1998 that the average number of problems in the vehicle dependability study has increased, J.D. Power said.

The top-ranked brand in the survey, as last year, was Toyota’s Lexus, with 68 problems per 100 cars. Mercedes took second spot, with 104 problems per 100 cars, although the gap was wide — it was closer to the industry average of 133 than it was to top-ranked Lexus, Mr. Sargent noted. The worst ranked brand was BMW’s Mini, with 185 problems per 100 cars. The top scoring cars—the Lexus LS and the Cadillac DTS—were both large luxury sedans.

The worst vehicle? J.D. Power declined to say.

A reputation for reliability over the long term should translate into better sales for a brand, and J.D. Power said that its analysis of trade-in data shows that 56% of people who reported no problems with their three-year-old cars stayed with that brand when they bought a new vehicle.

Brand loyalty dropped to 42% among people who reported three or more problems. Customers are also more likely to avoid brands that do poorly on the dependability study, J.D. Power said.

However, many of the problems cited by the 41,000 owners surveyed for the latest dependability scorecard weren’t related to serious mechanical failures.

Instead, they were expressions of dissatisfaction with engine hesitation, rough-shifting transmissions and lack of power. And they were mainly coming from drivers who, after seeing $4 a gallon gasoline in 2008, switched out of cars with larger engines into smaller, more economical ones, said David Sargent, J.D. Power’s vice president of global automotive practice.

“It seems to be an industrywide problem,” Mr. Sargent said. “Particularly for brands that are trying to get consumers out of sixes into fours.” People wanted the fuel savings offered by a four-cylinder engine, but three years on, they find the engine rough, noisy and jerky compared to the six-cylinder they’d driven before, he added. Some auto makers also leaned too far towards miserly fuel consumption in certain engine and transmission designs, and are now likely to recalibrate in favor of performance and smooth operation, he said.

Infotainment systems are another source of gripes with 2011 cars, Mr. Sargent said, and one that isn’t likely to go away when J.D. Power surveys owners of models in the future.

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