J.D. Power, the market research firm founded by the late Dave Power, released this year’s Vehicle Dependability Study last week. In the study, which aims to capture the reliability of specific brands and models, Lexus cleaned up, like it usually does, but it didn’t win for most dependable model. That would be the Porsche 911. Tesla, appearing for the first time, did poorly.
Porsche issued a press release celebrating things, with its North American president saying that Porsche was gratified to be making “exciting and dependable vehicles.” Which is only surprising insofar as no one is asking Porsche to make dependable vehicles, only exciting ones.
Still, the broader top line to the study this year was that cars became more dependable across the board. The study asked owners of 2018 model year cars how many problems they had in the preceding year, ranking the brands and models accordingly.
Vehicle dependability improves to best level ever: The industry average is 121 [problems per 100 vehicles]—the lowest in the study’s history—and a 13 PP100 (10%) improvement from 134 PP100 in 2020. This is a much greater rate of improvement than in the past two years, which had improvements of 2 PP100 and 6 PP100, respectively.
Below are the brand rankings. You will note that Tesla is not officially ranked, because, like with J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study, Tesla didn’t let J.D. Power talk to customers in 15 states. Its results are based on responses from customers in the 35 other states. Those results, if officially ranked, would place Tesla in fourth-to-last place. This is the first time Tesla has been in the study.
I have gone from being J.D. Power skeptic to sort-of-believer, as the surveys it does are pretty comprehensive. It’s not shocking at all to see Tesla, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo and Land Rover at the bottom and Lexus, Porsche and Kia at the top.
Further, J.D. Power’s list roughly squares with a recent one from Consumer Reports, though it is a little puzzling to see Honda and Volvo so low in J.D. Power’s and Chevy so relatively high.
The broader takeaway for me is that cars these days are pretty well refined. Still, you won’t be surprised to learn what consumers hate about them most:
All eight categories improve this year, led by exterior (3.7 PP100) and driving experience (2.2 PP100). ACEN (audio/communication/entertainment/ navigation) shows marginal improvement and remains the category with the most problems reported. “From early in the ownership experience, many owners complain about these systems being problematic,” [Dave Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power] said. “It’s a recurring theme. With smartphone apps increasingly giving owners an alternative, some will give up on the vehicle’s built-in systems that caused that initial frustration. That’s problematic for automakers, as a lot of the vehicle’s value is tied up in these systems and they don’t want to hand this business over to third parties.”
Infotainment is still not figured out, and it’s 2021.