For the first time in several years, an American auto brand has topped the J.D. Power & Associates Dependability survey-based study. And for the first time ever, Ford's Lincoln brand has done it -- besting Lexus, which is in second place. After Lexus are Jaguar, Porsche, and Toyota. The Porsche 911 sports car has the fewest problems in the industry, per the study.
While Lincoln takes the top score in overall brand dependability, Toyota Motor wins the most awards by vehicle segment -- seven in all. Domestic brands have closed the gap with imports in J.D Power's other benchmark study on initial quality -- which measures problems after three months of ownership, but not so much on dependability, which looks at vehicles that were bought new after three years of ownership -- in other words, after having been purchased in 2008. Since then, domestics have steadily improved in three-month initial quality scores, which suggests the dependability gap will follow suit.
And that score matters a lot when it comes to loyalty, per J.D. Power, which says that as the time of ownership stretches out, durability has an increasingly greater relevance to how much owners spend on service and how loyal they are to the dealership service bays. "As the number of problems experienced increases, owners are increasingly likely to use non-dealer service facilities for paid service work," says the firm. "In addition, as the number of problems increases, the percentage of owners who say they 'definitely will' return to their dealer for service diminishes."
Among owners who indicate they have experienced no problems, 76% said they 'definitely will' return to the dealer for paid service. That number drops to 42% among owners who say they experienced six or more problems.
Across all automakers, vehicle dependability has improved from last year, per the study, which measures problems experienced during the past 12 months. Based on responses from more than 43,700 original owners of 2008 model-year vehicles, it measures 202 different problem symptoms and then rates dependability on the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles. A lower score reflects a higher quality.
The firm says that this year overall, vehicle dependability averages 151 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) -- the lowest problem rate since the inception of the study in 1990. That is an improvement from 170 PP 100 in 2009, with a 6% annual improvement since then. That improvement rate is slightly lower than 8% annually before that. The firm says the reason for the slower rate of industry improvement in dependability is increased rates of problems with electronic features in vehicles, including audio, entertainment and navigation systems and new safety features, such as tire pressure monitoring systems.
"Automakers, as a whole, have made significant improvements in reducing traditional problems, particularly with vehicle interiors; engines and transmissions; and steering and braking during the past several years," said David Sargent, vice president of global vehicle research at J.D. Power and Associates. "However, as manufacturers add new features and technologies to satisfy customer demand and new legislation, they face the potential for introducing new problems."