J.D. Power's Initial Quality Study not taken lightly by automakers
Should you care if a new Chevrolet is less than 1 percent more likely to have a problem than a new Toyota? If a new Honda is 2.8 percent more likely to have a problem than either?
Some people who follow the auto industry asked those questions recently after J.D. Power revealed the latest edition of its Initial Quality Study of new cars.
“The margin from the best cars to average and below average has diminished dramatically,” Autotrader.com senior analyst Michelle Krebs said.
It's not like the 1980s, when vehicles with atrocious dependability and reliability were as common as oil leaks. J.D. Power's surveys became industry benchmarks then, but are they relevant today?
“You're talking about a fraction of a defect per car,” said John McElroy, host of the TV show “Autoline This Week.”
Automakers follow J.D. Power's findings closely, but do quality scores translate to sales or profits? McElroy pointed out that Ford's sales, market share and profits rose in recent years while the company's quality ratings tanked because of complaints about touch screen controls and new transmissions.
Despite that, automakers await Power's reports with anticipation and dread. CEOs clear their schedules for the briefings. Executives and engineers pore over Power's data on what customers like and why. They seek the consultant's advice on vehicles they're developing.
“Virtually every automaker subscribes” to the incredibly detailed reports, said Dave Sargent, vice president of J.D. Power's global automotive practice. The 2014 report was based on 86,000 customer responses. It gave automakers a stunning 6,000 data points on each vehicle line — all models of Ford Fusion, for instance — they build.
“It's the study automakers get most anxious about,” Sargent said. “All the evidence says it matters.” Some automakers base executives' bonuses and promotions on the results.
Over the years, the Initial Quality Study, or IQS, has evolved from a simple catalog of parts that broke and cars that wouldn't start to an evaluation of how new features work.
About two-thirds of the problems in this year's IQS are what Power calls design problems — such as poor voice recognition, rough-shifting transmissions and bad fuel economy. Power is reworking its long-term dependability study of 3-year-old cars to reflect the same factors.
“These are things the consumer cares about,” Sargent said. Vehicles “breaking down is not the differentiator anymore. Controls, voice recognition, navigation systems and using the phone are the things that either please customers or drive them nuts.”
But, as GM's ignition crisis shows, old-fashioned mechanical failures still happen, and they matter. None of the independent quality watchdogs — not IQS, not Consumer Reports, nobody — uncovered that time bomb. Consumers should use IQS scores when they look for a new vehicle, but remember the level of detail that might reveal a specific problem is reserved for Power's paying customers, the automakers.
Mark Phelan is the Detroit Free Press auto critic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Stocks bounce back from big losses to close relatively flat
- Kennametal expects to consolidate plants as it shrinks manufacturing in continuing streamlining; profit drops
- Muni bond funds stressed
- GNC to convert more stores to franchises as sales, profits slip
- Range Resources cuts workforce 11%
- PPG puts brand 1st in strategy to reach commercial paint market
- U.S. Steel CEO expects rebound
- Invasive beetle costs Pittsburgh-area power companies plenty
- Plummeting natural gas prices slash revenue of Marcellus shale producers
- Travelers find direct Web route to Priory’s spirited past in North Side
- Federal safety regulators go into bulldog mode on how automakers handle recalls