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by Tim Beissmann

The latest J.D. Power and Associates study from the US has revealed the quality of new vehicles in 2011 has decreased for the first time in five years, with drivetrain development and interior technology largely to blame.

The 2011 Initial Quality Study showed a significant decline in quality, with the number of problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) for new and redesigned models increasing to just below 2008 levels.

Conversely, the PP100 figure for carryover and refreshed models was the lowest in the report’s 25-year history.

J.D. Power recorded a rate of 122 problems per 100 new vehicles in 2011, up from 111 in 2010.

Only one quarter of new models launched in 2011 performed better than the previous-generation car from the 2010 study.

Engine and transmission technology was one area highlighted in the study. The report said high fuel prices and more stringent government regulations meant there was significantly more focus on making vehicles economical.

“However, this sometimes leads to the engine or transmission ‘hesitating’ when accelerating or changing gears, and consumers this year are reporting this as a problem more often than in past years,” the report said.

The other big issue was the widespread introduction of multimedia technology, including hands-free and voice-activation systems. Some owners found the new technology less than intuitive and said it did not always function properly.

J.D Power and Associates vice president of global vehicle research, David Sargent, said there was a need for manufacturers to strike a balance between rushing forward new technologies and offering a reliable, problem-free car.

“Exciting models with the latest features are crucial for winning over today’s demanding consumers,” Mr Sargent said.

“However, automakers must not lose their focus on the importance of these models also achieving exceptional quality levels.

“Expected reliability continues to be the single-most-important reason why new-vehicle buyers choose one model over another, and no manufacturer can afford to give consumers any doubts regarding the quality of their latest products.”

Problem rates for audio, entertainment and navigation systems were 28 percent higher in 2011 than they were two years ago.

Mr Sargent said it was important manufacturers took every step possible to ensure their new vehicle technologies were ready for “prime time”.

“Successful companies will be those that can take this incredibly complex technology and make it reliable, seamless and easy for owners to operate while they are driving.

“There is an understandable desire to bring these technologies to market quickly, but automakers must be careful to walk before they run.”

From an overall manufacturer perspective, Lexus led the way by a mile with just 73 problems per 100 vehicles, followed by fellow Japanese brands Honda (86) and Acura (89).

Mercedes-Benz, Mazda, Porsche, Toyota, Infiniti, Cadillac and GMC were the only other brands to rank ahead of the industry average 107 PP100.

Ford slipped from a top five position in 2010 to a disappointing 23rd position this year. J.D. Power director of automotive research, Raffi Festekjian, said Ford was a victim of “trying to do too much too quickly”.

“The slide down the rankings can be attributed to a number of factors, including engine issues, the new Ford Fiesta launching below the respective segment average in terms of initial quality, and [Ford Sync and MyFord Touch] software problems,” Mr Festekjian said.

MINI, Volkswagen, Mitsubishi, Suzuki and Dodge filled the bottom five of the 2011 US quality ranking.

Highest quality cars by segment:

  • Sub-compact: Honda Fit (Jazz)
  • Compact: Honda Civic/Honda Insight
  • Compact sports: Mazda MX-5
  • Compact premium sports: Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe/Cabriolet
  • Midsize: Honda Accord
  • Midsize premium: Lexus GS
  • Midsize sports: Dodge Challenger
  • Entry premium: Lexus ES
  • Large: Ford Taurus
  • Large premium: Lexus LS

Highest quality trucks/SUVs by segment:

  • Compact crossover: Honda Element
  • Compact MPV: Chevrolet HHR
  • Entry premium crossover: Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class
  • Midsize crossover: Honda Accord Crosstour
  • Large crossover: Chevrolet Tahoe
  • Midsize premium crossover: Lexus GX
  • Large premium crossover: Cadillac Escalade
  • Large pickup: Ford F-150 LD
  • Midsize pickup: Honda Ridgeline
  • Minivan: Chrysler Town & Country



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