2011 Models Less Reliable Than 2010 Vehicles, J.D. Power Study Finds

Lexus_2011_image_IM

Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac led J.D. Power and Associates' 2014 Vehicle Dependability Study, which tracks problems per vehicle from original owners of 3-year-old cars — in this case, 2011 models. But overall problems rose 6 percent versus last year's study of 2010 models, the first time since J.D. Power's 1998 VDS that reliability in late-model cars has declined.

Does Reliability Affect Luxury-Car Sales?

Among non-luxury brands, Honda (sixth overall), Toyota (eighth) and Subaru (12th) ranked highest in the 31-brand study. Hyundai, Jeep, Land Rover, Dodge and Mini rounded out the bottom five.

Vehicle dependability, which J.D. Power expresses in problems per 100 ("PP100") vehicles, rose to 133 PP100 in the 2014 study. A year ago, it was 126 PP100 — the lowest in the 25-year study's history. Drivetrain problems led to most of the increase, the company said, as four-cylinder engines and large diesel motors accounted for more problems than conventional five- and six-cylinder engines.

Dependability vs. Quality
"We saw some increase in technology problems, particularly around things like hands-free and voice recognition [and] a little bit around navigation systems," David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power, told Cars.com. "But the biggest part was certainly powertrain."

With automakers "trying to squeeze as much fuel [economy] out of the vehicles as possible," Sargent said, "it comes at a price. And some consumers are complaining that the vehicles are not performing well, the engine's hesitating, the transmission's shifting erratic or rough."

Is that a dependability issue? Technically not, Sargent said, but it drives the same result.

"You have a number of consumers who are downsizing not necessarily in the vehicle [class] but in terms of the engine" in the same type of vehicle, Sargent said. "Guess what? The vehicle doesn't perform the way you want it, and they perceive it to be a quality issue. Technically, it's not dependability. … An engineer could argue that that's technically the way the car is supposed to operate, but the consumer [still] doesn't like it."

Don't Like, Don't Buy
What people dislike, they avoid. That's hardly earth-shaking, but the extent to which it happens might surprise you. After comparing VDS data with trade-in data and its own 2014 Avoider Study, J.D. Power concluded that 56 percent of owners who reported no problems stuck with the same brand when buying their next car. With three or more problems, brand loyalty slipped to 42 percent. And 23 percent of consumers avoided brands that ranked in the lowest quarter of 2013's VDS because of reliability concerns.

For VDS, J.D. Power surveyed 41,000 original owners of 2011 models with help from R.L. Polk registration data between October and December 2013. The study differs from the company's midyear Initial Quality Study — which Porsche, GMC and Lexus led in 2013 — in that VDS looks specifically at things that break, while IQS analyzes things that break plus things that drivers merely dislike. But as researchers seek to pinpoint what people find dissatisfying, the two have grown closer together.

"It's probably becoming a little more so" related, Sargent said. "We're actually going to redesign VDS for next year and try to be more explicit to try and identify things that are getting worse" in terms of dependability, not quality.

"Some of those things are dependability, some of them are bad design," he added. "We're trying to balance the two ends of the spectrum."

Bells and Whistles Can Work
Today's study plays against a long-held adage: More features equals a higher risk of things that can go wrong. That's what Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports' director of auto testing, said in 2013.

Sargent agrees in principle: "Net-net, more features should lead to more problems," he said. "One could argue that if [the top luxury brands] didn't have any of these sophisticated features, the dependability might actually be better."

Even so, luxury brands still led the pack in the 2014 VDS. And Consumer Reports and J.D. Power can agree on one thing: Lexus. Toyota's luxury division topped VDS by a mile, and Fisher said in 2013 the brand has impressive reliability.

See J.D. Power's results below:

JDP1

JDP2

JDP3

Cars.com photo by Ian Merritt

Comments 

JR

I wonder if the reliability study took into account vehicle mileage. Wear and tear on components increases the more a vehicle is used and the likelihood of a problem developing with the vehicle also increases.

Also, how could the MINI cooper be the most dependable compact sporty car when in terms of nameplate VDS ranking it is at the bottom of the pile? Did it have any competitor or was it alone in the category?

Jay

How is the Lexus ES considered a compact and the Avalon is considered a full size car? They are both the same size. Their is definitely some flaws with these studies. Also, like JR, are they considering mileage and is the vehicle being serviced properly.

JR,

I asked David Sargent about the Mini issue. He conceded it's an anomaly, but the Cooper competed in a group (compact sporty cars) where "all of that segment frankly didn't perform well," he said. So, the Cooper was the best of an unreliable subset, but relative to all makes/models, Mini's entire lineup still ranks last.

KM

JR

KM,

Thanks for the clarification.

TH

I have a 2006 RX350 (European model)since new, and apart from regular maintenance, the only repairs that I've had to do so far were replacement of two ignition coils in almost 8 years. Have had Nissan Bluebird (early 90s), BMW 3 and 7 series, Mitsubishi Colt, Toyota Camry and VW Golf...but none came close to the relibility of the RX, not even the Camry. And I was talked into buying a Lexus by my dad at the first place because it wasn't even on my shortlist back then... was looking only at European offerings at the time... now..after 8 years with the Lexus, my notion of relibility has totally changed.

Just read next post and got my answer. Report covers 3yr old vehicles with orig owners, so 2011. So yes then Initial quality which reflects the NEW purchase should als weigh in when deciding.
: Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac led J.D. Power and Associates' 2014 Vehicle Dependability Study, which tracks problems per vehicle from original owners of 3-year-old cars — in this case, 2011 models. But overall problems rose 6 percent versus last year's study of 2010 models, the first time since J.D. Power's 1998 VDS that reliability in late-model cars has declined.

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