J.D. Power: Powertrain Problems Impact Quality

The results of the J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) are in. And those findings offer some surprises as well as a warning to automotive manufacturers.

J.D. Power 2014 VDS

For the first time in 15 years vehicle dependability has fallen, as owners of surveyed 2011 models reported a 6 percent increase in problems per vehicle. The J.D. Power Dependability Study measures owner satisfaction for the third year of vehicle ownership, a strong indicator of the longer term quality for any vehicle.

J.D. Power found that overall dependability averages came in at 133 PP100, up from 126 PP100 in 2013. Thus, there were 133 problems per 100 vehicles, the first time since the 1998 study that the number of reported problems increased.

Three factors contributed to the rise led by the powertrain (engine and transmission); audio, entertainment and navigation; and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

Smaller Engines, Bigger Problems

The largest increase involved four-cylinder engines, often the motor of choice for today’s new cars. Owners complained about a lack of power as well as engine hesitation and rough transmission shifts. Manufacturers have been making use of smaller engines in recent years to meet increasingly stringent fuel economy mandates.

One of the more significant problems reported had to do with push button ignition systems that were new or redesigned for the 2011 model year. Owners complained that engines sometimes would not turn over even as they pressed on the brake pedal while pushing the button.

Infotainment System Woes

Kia Rio infotainment system.
A Kia infotainment system.
Perhaps not so surprising were problems owners had with infotainment systems, technologies that include audio and entertainment, and are often married to navigation systems. Complaints that these systems do not recognize voice commands were common, representing the largest problem increase in the 2014 VDS. Navigation systems that gave inaccurate directions and dropped Bluetooth connections were among the other problems reported.

Vehicle HVAC systems were another problem area with owners complaining that air conditioners dont get cold enough, fast enough.

Brand Loyalty

J.D. Power sees a high correlation between customer satisfaction and dependability when it comes to owner loyalty. For customers that report no problems with their vehicles, 56 percent are likely to return to that brand for their next purchase. For customers that do report a problem, only 42 percent will stick with the brand.

Leading the VDS pack was Lexus with a score of 68 PP100 or 68 problems per 100 reported. In a distant second place was Mercedes-Benz at 104 PP100 followed by Cadillac at 107 PP100.

Buick scored the highest amongst non-luxury or mainstream brands with a score of 112 PP100 followed by Honda and Toyota at 114 PP100. Notably, GM with its Cadillac, Buick, GMC, and Chevrolet brands earned more dependability awards than any other manufacturer, garnering eight first-place finishes in their respective categories.

J.D. Power Segment Award Winners

The award winners were announced by segment and included the following 2011 model year vehicles: Honda CR-V, Acura RDX, Chevrolet Volt, Lexus ES 350, Scion xB, MINI Cooper, GMC Yukon, Buick Lucerne, and the GMC Sierra 2500HD. Notably, the Buick Lucerne is no longer produced.

Also, the GMC Sierra 1500, Cadillac Escalade, Cadillac DTS, Lexus LS, Honda Crosstour and the Toyota Camry pulled down segment honors. Like the Lucerne, the Cadillac DTS is also no longer produced.

Other segment winners included the Honda Ridgeline, Lexus RX, Lexus GS, Chevrolet Camaro, Toyota Sienna, Honda Element and the Honda Fit. Honda has since discontinued the Element.

Towards Making Improvements

Certainly, automotive manufacturers will carefully scrutinize J.D. Power data to determine where their respective brands and vehicles stand. And the manufacturer that comes up with an understandable and responsive infotainment system may achieve significant gains in future quality studies while also addressing powertrain and HVAC concerns.

See AlsoKia, Hyundai Star in 2015 J.D. Power Survey

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