J.D. Power: Domestics Lead Imports in Quality for First TimeBy Bill Visnic June 17, 2010
In a telling reversal of longstanding trends and perceptions, domestic automakers' brands, as a whole, have pulled ahead in overall quality as measured by J.D. Power and Associates' benchmark Initial Quality Study, now in its 24th year.
It's the first time domestic brands have, in the aggregate, surpassed imports in initial quality, Power said today. The domestics brands' watershed performance in the 2010 U.S. Initial Quality Study was driven by quality improvements by new models from the surging Ford Motor Co. and the industry's trend in improving the general quality of newly launched vehicles.
True, the domestic triumph was not overwhelming: domestic brands experienced 108 problems per 100 vehicles compared with the 109 problems per 100 vehicles for imports. But the symbolic impact remains - domestics, overall, have better quality than imports.
"Domestic automakers have made impressive strides in steadily improving vehicle quality, particularly since 2007," said David Sargent, vice president of global vehicle research, in a release. "This year may mark a key turning point for U.S. brands as they continue to fight the battle against lingering negative perceptions of their quality."
At the study's model level, imports still dominated, though. Imports were the top model in 14 of the study's 20 segments.
Slight Uptick in Problems
The initial-quality improvement of domestic brands comes as the entire industry actually performed marginally worse: the 2010 industry average of 109 problems per 100 vehicles is one point higher than last year's average of 108 problems per 100 vehicles.
Problems for import brands rose from 106 per 100 vehicles in 2009 to the 109 problems per 100 vehicles this year that led to the imports' historic drop behind domestics.
Power said "substantial" quality improvements from several domestic models - including the Ford Focus, Dodge Ram light-duty pickup and the Buick Enclave - helped the domestics to surpass imports - and called out Ford, in particular, for its contribution to the cause.
"Initial quality of Ford models has improved steadily for the past nine years," Power reported. "In addition, as a corporation, Ford Motor Company (including Volvo) has 12 models that rank within the top three in their respective segments in 2010--more than any other corporation."
General Motors Co., meanwhile, had ten models that were one of the top three performers within their segment, a performance that should help the automaker's efforts to win back public confidence after last year's federal bailout and Chapter 11 bankruptcy. None of GM's individual brands performed above the industry average, however.
Launch Quality Improving
The 2010 initial quality survey also had good things to say about the continuing improvement in quality for newly launched models, which historically have lagged in quality compared with carryover vehicles.
Power said the initial quality of new models and major redesigns improved in 2010, "led by new launches from Ford, Honda, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche."
The researchers said the Honda Accord Crosstour and the redesigned Ford Mustang, Ford Taurus and Lexus GX 460 each ranked highest in initial quality in their respective segments for 2010 and "the Ford Fusion, Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe and Sedan and Porsche Panamera also launch with notably high initial quality levels."
Longstanding Leader Skewered
Porsche led all brands in initial quality in 2010, the report said, at just 83 problems per 100 vehicles.
Meanwhile, Toyota Motor Corp., in the aftermath of this year's highly-publicized sticky accelerator pedal issue and the resultant unintended-acceleration crisis, was pummeled by owners in the survey. Toyota dropped from sixth place overall in 2009 to 21st place this year, with problems per 100 vehicles increasing by 16 to 117. In the history of the IQS study, the Toyota's worst performance was 13th.
In finishing 21st this year, Toyota's initial quality surpassed that of just 12 brands.
Although 87 percent of the vehicles it sells were recalled in the past year, Sargent said recalls typically do not impact IQS performance - although he did say that in Toyota's case, most of the additional problems reported by owners were related to recalls.
Chrysler Group LLC has been talking for some time of its expanded efforts at improving quality and the company's Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram brands all improved this year, although all also remain below the industry average.
Sargent predicted that Chrysler brands will improve to above the industry average within the next few years, however.
The 2010 IQS was conducted between November, 2009 and February, 2010. Sargent said slightly more than 82,000 surveys were returned. There were 33 brands included in the survey this year, a decline from the past because of the loss of GM's Saturn, Pontiac and Hummer brands; Saab, formerly owned by GM but now owned by the Netherlands' Spyker Cars NV, also was not included in this year's IQS survey.
Sargent also said his researchers have found that lower quality does lead to lower owner loyalty. And he expects the industry's improving days-to-turn performance may help boost future IQS scores, as vehicles that spend less time on dealer lots typically have fewer reported problems.
1. Porsche once again led all brands in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study (courtesy Porsche Cars North America Inc.)