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Lexus reclaims reliability crown, J.D. Power survey shows

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Lexus returned to the top of the vehicle-dependability mountain after a one-year hiatus, while Kia ranked No. 3 overall to lead all mass-market brands for the first time, an annual study by J.D. Power showed.

Overall long-term reliability hit a record level in the 32-year history of J.D. Power’s Vehicle Dependability Study, averaging 121 problems per 100 vehicles surveyed, compared with 134 problems per 100 vehicles in last year’s report.

“Without question vehicle dependability in the industry is the best that it has ever been,” Dave Sargent, vice president of automotive quality at J.D. Power, said Thursday in a webinar announcing the results.

Across all brands, Porsche ranked second behind Lexus. The German brand’s 911 model took top honors for fewest reported problems for the second time in three years.

Toyota placed fourth while Cadillac and Buick tied at No. 5 with 100 reported problems per 100 vehicles. Hyundai, Genesis — the winner of last year’s dependability crown — Lincoln, Acura and BMW filled out the top 10.

Tesla is included in the study for the first time, with 176 problems per 100 vehicles, though it was not included in the official rankings because Tesla did not allow J.D. Power to survey its owners in 15 states.

“Tesla’s score was calculated based on a robust sample of surveys from owners in the other 35 states,” J.D. Power said. If its score were included in the official rankings, the electric vehicle maker would rank fourth from the bottom.

Tesla’s “seemingly low dependability is not because they build EVs,” Sargent said in the webinar. “Actually their biggest area of strength is powertrain. It’s much more around sort of basic manufacturing issues. Tesla is still relatively new at manufacturing vehicles.”

In addition to the top 10 brands, Chevrolet and Mitsubishi did better than the industry average, with Mazda right at the average. Aside from Kia, other brands above the industry average that showed strong improvement were Cadillac, Acura, Hyundai and Mitsubishi.

While most auto owners are not seeing their vehicles break down or fall apart at the three-year mark, Sargent said, inconsistent or underperforming on-board technology continues to be an issue.

Of the eight problem categories covered in the study, all showed improvement, led by exterior and driving experience. The audio, communication, entertainment and navigation category showed minimal improvement and remained the category with the most problems reported.

“From early in the ownership experience, many owners complain about these systems being problematic,” Sargent said in the statement.

“With smartphone apps increasingly giving owners an alternative,” he continued, that creates a problem for automakers loath to hand over this lucrative business to third parties.

Lexus stood atop the rankings, which included 32 brands, for the ninth time in 10 years, with 81 problems reported per 100 vehicles.

Sitting at the bottom of the rankings were Jaguar, Alfa Romeo and Land Rover, which together averaged more than two reported problems per vehicle.

Volkswagen had the biggest performance decline across all brands, slipping from sixth overall and 113 problems per 100 vehicles last year to 23rd this year with 163 problems per 100 vehicles. Only Chrysler, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo and Land Rover placed lower in this year’s ranking.

Honda also saw some significant slippage, dropping to the 22nd position (145 per 100) from the 14th slot (139 per 100) last year.

Both VW and Honda were hampered by model launches: the Accord and Odyssey in the case of Honda and the Atlas and Tiguan for VW, Sargent said.

Fiat was not included in the study because of an insufficient sample size. J.D. Power needs to collect at least 100 customer responses on a model for it to be included, Sargent said.

The study measures the number of problems reported per 100 vehicles over the past 12 months. The 2021 study is based on responses from 33,251 original owners of 2018 model year vehicles after three years of ownership. Responses were collected from July through November of last year.

The study, which has used the current format since 2015, is slated for a redesign next year as J.D. Power strives to account for “the wealth of new technology that has come to market,” Sargent said. “We need to ask consumers about this.”