Toyota, GM Stand Out in J.D. Power Dependability Study

DETROIT (Detroit Free Press/TNS) -

Lexus, Buick, Toyota and Cadillac captured the top four spots in J.D. Power and Associates’ annual vehicle dependability study, which measures owner-reported problems in three-year-old vehicles.

Breaking down the results by segment, General Motors and Toyota each received seven “best in segment” awards. All four GM brands finished above the industry average of 147 problems per 100 vehicles. Complete results can be found at www.jdpower.com/dependability.

Ford luxury brand Lincoln ranked 7th with 118 problems per 100, but Ford brand slipped to 25th from 17th in 2014, with 188 problems per hundred.

Of Fiat Chrysler’s brands, Ram ranked the highest (14th), up from 25th in 2014. Chrysler brand held steady at 23rd, Dodge ranked 27th, Jeep was 29th and Fiat was 31st.

This was the second day in a row that GM received high marks from an independent firm measuring consumers’ perceptions. Tuesday, Buick became the first domestic car brand in three years to crack the top 10 — it ranked 7th — on Consumer Reports’ annual report card.

In the J.D. Power study, which focused on consumer satisfaction with 2012 models, all four GM brands ranked above the industry average last year, just as they did last year.

“Buick’s ranking is a testament to the fact that we on the leading edge of reliability, quality and customer service,” Duncan Aldred, Buick and GMC vice president, said in a statement. “More and more customers are visiting the Buick showroom because we put these values at the core of every model we bring to the market.”

While high marks from J.D. Power has marketing value, it does not immunize an automaker from all quality issues. Last year, two days after Power’s dependability study was released, GM issued the first recall of 2003-2007 models equipped with defective ignition switches. J.D. Power doesn’t measure consumer satisfaction of vehicles that old.

“General Motors recognizes this is a widely used benchmark study,” said Jeff Wrona, GM’s executive director of vehicle engineering & powertrain quality. “We’ve taken previous results and analyzed what opportunities we could find to improve, and we have implemented those steps.”

Overall, complaints about Bluetooth connectivity and voice-recognition software were again the most frequently reported problems after three years of ownership.

“Owners view in-vehicle-technology issues as significant problems, and they typically don’t go away after the ownership honeymoon period is over,” said Renee Stephens, J.D. Power vice president of U.S. automotive surveys. “Furthermore, early indications from our upcoming 2015 U.S. Tech Choice Study show that vehicle owner expectations of advanced technology capabilities are growing. Owners clearly want the latest technology in their vehicles, and they don’t hesitate to express their disapproval when it doesn’t work.”

This is not the first time negative feedback on touchscreen infotainment systems have hurt quality scores. Ford, whose Sync mobile-phone interface debuted in 2008 models followed by MyFord Touch in 2011, has seen its J.D. Power scores fall because of owner discontent with various aspects of the screen.

Developed jointly with Microsoft, Sync performs reliably, but Ford announced late in 2014 it would work with BlackBerry to develop the next generation of Sync and MyFord Touch.

Now, Apple is offering its CarPlay software and Google has a competing product called Android Auto. Both are designed to simplify the design and reduce distraction needed to use these features that have nearly replaced buttons and knobs in cars of the pre-digital age.

Among owners who experienced a Bluetooth pairing/connectivity problem, 55 percent told Power that their vehicle would not recognize their phone, and 31 percent said the phone would not automatically connect when entering their vehicle.

Similar connectivity problems are the most frequently cited complaint in J.D. Power’s initial quality survey taken by drivers after the first 90 days of ownership.

“Consumers want and expect the technology in the vehicles to work like their mobile devices, and we’re not there yet,” said Michelle Krebs, an industry analyst with Autotrader.com.

The feedback in this study reflected the views of people with three-year-old vehicles. Most automakers have refined the software, and sometimes the design, of their infotainment touchscreens since then.

“We’ve gotten so used to near perfection in the rest of a new automobile that we’ve tuned out those systems that aren’t perfect,” said John Maddox, assistant director for the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center. “I definitely experience frustration on the infotainment systems of my vehicles, but I experience the same frustrations with my Mac.”