Lexus, Mercury and Cadillac Top New J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study

J.D. Power & Associates has again released its annual Vehicle Dependability Study, measuring problems experienced by original owners of 3-year-old vehicles; in this case, 2005 model year vehicles. No surprises at the very top, as Lexus leads the pack for a 14th straight year, but two domestic brands — Mercury and Cadillac — again made the top five. In fact, of US automakers, only Chrysler didn't have a brand that placed above the industry average. Full rankings and press release after the jump.

2008 Nameplate VDS Ranking
Problems Per 100 Vehicles
Lexus 120
Mercury 151
Cadillac 155
Toyota 159
Acura 160
Buick 163
BMW 164
Lincoln 165
Honda 177
Jaguar 178
Porsche 193
Mitsubishi 197
Hyundai 200
Ford 204
Infiniti 204
Industry Average 206
Audi 207
Mercedes-Benz 215
Nissan 224
Pontiac 225
GMC 226
Mazda 228
Subaru 228
Chrysler 229
Dodge 230
MINI 233
Chevrolet 239
HUMMER 241
Scion 243
Volvo 244
Saturn 250
Jeep 253
Volkswagen 253
SAAB 254
Isuzu 274
Kia 278
Suzuki 302
Land Rover 344

Jalopnik Snap Judgment: We commend the industry as a whole for taking big steps toward improving quality. We're just not sure how well this study reflects reality, though: After all, it weighs all problems equally, and the top five complaints include such trivialities as wind noise, excessive windshield fogging and noisy brakes. Granted, those things are irritating, but they're not the same as having your transaxle turn to dust after 10,000 miles. We'd like to see this study show where manufacturers rank on truly debilitating problems — things that render the vehicle inoperative or dangerous to drive. In the meantime, these rankings show how good cars, and car companies, have gotten on the quality front. And for everyone who isn't Lexus: Keep chasing after that brass ring, kids.

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif.: 7 August 2008 — Deterioration in vehicle quality during the first three years of ownership—determined by comparing long-term dependability rates to initial quality problem rates—strongly affects overall customer satisfaction as well as customer willingness to recommend their vehicle model, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2008 Vehicle Dependability StudySM (VDS) released today.

The study, which measures problems experienced by original owners of 3-year-old (2005 model year) vehicles, finds that, on average, customers report experiencing 75 percent more problems in the third year of ownership than during the first 90 days. Those models with the largest increase in problem levels show the most pronounced declines in satisfaction and the likelihood of owners to recommend their vehicle model. In addition, while no model has fewer reported problems in the third year of ownership compared with the first three months, those models that average less than 35 percent problem growth actually demonstrate improvement in overall satisfaction during the three-year period.

"Understanding and minimizing quality deterioration is critical for manufacturers, as it is a key driver of owner satisfaction and word of mouth recommendations," said David Sargent, vice president of automotive research at J.D. Power and Associates. "It is imperative that manufacturers design models that not only achieve high levels of initial quality but also attain high levels of longer-term dependability. Vehicle models that stand the test of time will help automaker profitability through superior owner satisfaction and recommendation rates."

The study also finds that five of the top 10 problems reported industry-wide in the 2008 Vehicle Dependability Study were also among the top 10 most frequently reported problems in the 2005 Initial Quality Study, suggesting that the problems are identified by owners during the initial ownership period, but have not been rectified by automakers during the three-year ownership period.

The problems include:

1. Excessive wind noise
2. Noisy brakes
3. Vehicle pulling to the left or right
4. Issues with the instrument panel/dashboard
5. Excessive window fogging

"Although automakers have achieved tremendous gains in initial quality and dependability in recent years by specifically addressing customer concerns, these particular problems still prove challenging for manufacturers," said Sargent. "The fact that these problems have endured throughout the industry for many years suggests that additional focus on these issues prior to vehicle launch would benefit not only consumers, but also automakers through increased customer satisfaction."

For a 14th consecutive year, Lexus ranks highest in vehicle dependability, improving by 25 problems per 100 vehicles since 2007 to achieve a score of 120 PP100. Following in the top five rankings are Mercury, Cadillac, Toyota and Acura, respectively.

In addition, Lexus garners six segment awards—the most of any nameplate in 2008—for the ES 330, GX 470, IS 300, LS 430, LX 470 and SC 430. Toyota follows with five segment awards for the Highlander, Prius, RAV4, Sequoia, and Tundra. Ford and Honda each capture two awards. Ford models receiving awards are the Crown Victoria and Ranger, while Honda earns awards for the Element and S2000. Models by Buick, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Mazda and Mercury each rank highest in one segment.

SAAB is the most improved brand in the study, although it continues to rank below the industry average. SAAB improves by 65 PP100 since 2007.

The study finds that long-term vehicle quality has improved by 5 percent industry-wide in 2008—with an overall decrease of 10 problems per 100 vehicles—compared with 2007. More than 60 percent of the 38 nameplates included in the study improve in 2008, compared with 2007. Among the 19 segments included in the study, the midsize premium MAV segment demonstrates the most improvement in 2008—36 PP100 fewer than in 2007. The compact car and midsize car segments also have much lower problem levels in 2008 than in 2007, and together account for more than one-half of the overall industry improvement.

"The gains in dependability for compact and midsize vehicles are good news for consumers who are downsizing their vehicles due to increasing fuel prices," said Sargent. "Consumers who purchase these smaller vehicles benefit not only from immediate gains in fuel economy, but also from improvements in long-term dependability, compared with previous years."

The 2008 Vehicle Dependability Study is based on responses from more than 52,000 original owners of 2005 model-year vehicles. The study was fielded from January through April 2008.

Find more detailed findings on vehicle dependability as well as model photos and specs by reading an article and reviewing brand and segment dependability ratings at JDPower.com.


[J.D. Power and Associates]