Overall Industry Scores Improve, But Problems with Infotainment Tech Continue to Grow
Honda was the No. 1 mainstream brand in J.D. Power and Associates 2012 Initial Quality Study (IQS), with Lexus earning highest honors amongst premium makes for the second straight year. Those two brands led the industry to an overall 5 percent improvement in initial quality as compared to 2011, but that good news comes with one big-time caveat: Customer-reported problems with the latest generation of audio, nav and entertainment systems jumped by 8 percent during the same time—issues with this kind of technology have now overtaken all other vehicle problems to become the biggest source of dissatisfaction in the study.
The worst culprit according to J.D. Power: “The number of owner-reported problems with factory-installed hands-free communication devices has increased 137 percent during the past four years. In fact, hands-free devices not recognizing commands has become the most-often-reported problem in the industry.”
Still, the average number of problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) for the U.S. auto industry as a whole fell to 102 PP100, with 15 brands besting that mark. Other factoids of note:
- 26 of 34 brands improved their scores from the 2011 IQS, as did 120 of the 185 individual models
- Ford and Lexus were the individual brand leaders, each with three segment-winning vehicles
- Toyota as a whole, including Lexus, had five segment winners, the most of any company
- Jaguar saw the biggest year-over-year improvement, slicing its score by 39 PP100 to move from the 20th position in last year’s study to a tie for second place, with 75 PP100, in 2012
- General Motors, with four segment winners, one from each brand, had its best IQS performance ever
- Results were based on input from 74,000 buyers/lessees of new 2012 model-year vehicles, who responded to a 228-entry questionaire covering problems after 90 days of vehicle ownership
In a time when next-gen vehicles have taken the marketplace by storm, it’s interesting to note that three of the mainstream car segments were won by distinctly old-school models: The Toyota Yaris and Toyota Corolla earned the best scores in the Sub-Compact Car and Compact Car segments, while the Chevy Malibu came out on top of the Midsize Car category. (Note: The Malibu’s score were based solely on the 2012 model, with no help from the 2013 Malibu Eco that’s also on sale now.)
This could reflect the lower levels of technology available in these cars as compared to their newer rivals—remember, tech-related problems surged in this year’s study—especially if you dig a little deeper into the results.
Looking at the top three finishers in each of those three categories, seven out of nine vehicles were designed prior to the great automotive meltdown of 2009. In addition to the Yaris, Corolla and Malibu, that seven included the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Honda Fit and Toyota Prius.
This year’s mainstream car leaders in the 2012 Initial Quality Study:
- Sub-Compact Car—Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Mazda2
- Compact Car—Toyota Corolla, Toyota Prius, Honda Civic
- Midsize Car—Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion and Honda Accord (tie)
- Large Car—Ford Taurus, Toyota Avalon, Chrysler 300
2012 J.D. Power IQS: Mainstream Trucks, Crossovers and Minivans
There were surprises galore on the truck side of the industry, particularly when it came to full-size pickups. Despite its long and ongoing streak as the best-selling vehicle in America, its impressive EcoBoost powerplant, and a serious commitment to continuous improvement, the Ford F-150 was nowhere to be found. Instead, the General swept the Large Pickup segment with the GMC Sierra, Chevrolet Silverado HD and Chevy Avalanche (in a tie with the Nissan Titan).
Another unexpected victor showed up in the Minivan segment, where the Nissan Quest posted the lowest number of problems. It’s a marked contrast from how the vehicles do in terms of sales; in May, for example, the top four minivans in the country were the Sienna (14,606 sales), Dodge Grand Caravan (12,418 sales), Honda Odyssey (12,348 sales) and Chrysler Town & Country (10,323 sales). The Quest, on the other hand, managed just 1,802 deliveries last month, which even trailed the Kia Sedona (1,916 sales).
The 2012 IQS winners in the mainstream truck categories included:
- Compact Crossover/SUV—Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Toyota FJ Cruiser
- Compact MPV—Kia Soul, Toyota Prius v (the only two vehicles in this category to outperform the industry average)
- Midsize Crossover—Buick Enclave, Honda Crosstour, Honda Pilot, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Murano, Toyota Highlander (the last four tying for the third spot)
- Large Crossover/SUV—Ford Expedition, GMC Yukon, Chevrolet Tahoe
- Large Pickup—GMC Sierra, Chevrolet Silverado HD, Chevrolet Avalanche and Nissan Titan (tie)
- Midsize Pickup—Nissan Frontier, Honda Ridgeline (the only two vehicles in this category to outperform the industry average)
- Minivan—Nissan Quest, Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna
2012 J.D. Power IQS: Premium and Sporty Cars
For the fifth consecutive year—and 12th out of the last 15—the Lexus LS was the least problematic choice in the Large Premium Car segment, and the Lexus ES was a repeat winner in the Entry Premium Car category. But again, those sumptuous sedans are among the older vehicles in their classes, with the current ES being in the last few weeks of its life cycle; the all-new ES family, which will include its first hybrid entry, the ES 300h, is due this summer.
Another interesting outcome in this year’s Initial Quality Study was enjoyed by Lincoln. The much-maligned luxury brand didn’t win any categories outright, but the Lincoln MKS finished second among Midsize Premium Cars and the Lincoln MKZ notched a third-place trophy in the Entry Premium segment.
Also, enthusiasts seem to be a lot less forgiving than the typical owners: They ranked just two entries above the industry average in three of the four “Sporty” car classes, including the Midsize Sporty Car segment—aka, the muscle-car category—where the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger finished 1-2.
The full list of IQS winners among Premium and Sporty Cars:
- Compact Sporty Car—Mazda MX-5 Miata, Volkswagen Eos, Scion tC
- Compact Premium Sporty Car—Volvo C70, Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabrio/Coupe
- Midsize Sport Car—Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger
- Premium Sporty Car—Porsche 911, BMW 6 Series
- Entry Premium Car—Lexus ES 350, Acura TL, Lincoln MKZ
- Midsize Premium Car—Infiniti M-Series, Lincoln MKS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class Wagon/Sedan
- Large Premium Car—Lexus LS, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Porsche Panamera
2012 J.D. Power IQS: Premium Trucks and Crossovers
GM’s decision to save the Cadillac Escalade keeps looking better and better: After leading the entire industry in the recent 2012 Autobytel/AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Awards, the luxury icon has now won the Large Premium Crossover/SUV segment in the 2012 IQS. Notable as well: Three Infiniti vehicles finished in the top two of the Premium categories, as the Infiniti EX had the least problems of all Entry Premium Crossovers/SUVs, and the Infiniti FX and Infiniti QX were second-place finishers in the Midsize and Large Premium Crossover/SUV categories.
The lux trucks with the lowest PP100 scores in the 2012 Initial Quality Study:
Entry Premium Crossover/SUV—Infiniti EX, Acura RDX, Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class
Midsize Premium Crossover/SUV—Lexus RX, Infiniti FX, Cadillac SRX
Large Premium Crossover/SUV—Cadillac Escalade, Infiniti QX56, Land Rover Range Rover Sport
2012 J.D. Power IQS: Brand Leaders
The list of the top 15 brands in the 2012 Initial Quality Study—the ones that outperformed the 102 PP100 industry average—ran to nine premium brands and six mainstream makes, including:
- Lexus, 73 PP100
- Jaguar, 75 PP100
- Porsche, 75 PP100
- Cadillac, 80 PP100
- Honda, 83 PP100
- Acura, 84 PP100
- Infiniti, 84 PP100
- Toyota, 88 PP100
- Mercedes-Benz, 96 PP100
- BMW, 97 PP100
- Mazda, 97 PP100
- GMC, 99 PP100
- Nissan, 99 PP100
- Ram, 99 PP100
- Chevrolet, 100 PP100