It's on old story in the auto business: Consumer perception refuses to keep pace with improvements in vehicle durability and quality.
While J.D. Power and other industry-watchers have said that the differences in durability and quality among major automakers have increasingly become more narrow, consumers generally think the differences are vast, and that the companies that have narrowed the distance and even surpassed others are still lagging. That's no small problem, notes J.D. Power, because perception of quality and dependability is "the most influential factor in their decision to purchase a specific vehicle model."
In the Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based company's latest vehicle-dependability study, which polls people who have owned their new-bought vehicles for three years, 25 of 36 brands have improved in long-term dependability this year.
But per the study, several brands that perform well in long-term dependability this year are not on shopping lists precisely because consumers don't trust their dependability. The biggest victims of this perception gap are Cadillac, Ford, Hyundai, Lincoln and Mercury.
David Sargent, VP of global vehicle research at the firm, said in the report that there's no easy way to fix that problem. "It takes considerable time to positively change consumer perceptions of quality and dependability -- sometimes a decade or more -- so it is vital for manufacturers to continually improve quality and also to convince consumers of these gains."
The study also finds that long-term dependability boosts repurchase intent. Among the owners polled who said they did not experience problems with their vehicle, 43% said they "definitely will" repurchase their current brand; but only 28% of those who said they experienced at least one problem with their vehicle said they definitely will buy the brand again.
Sargent recommended that automakers do essentially what Hyundai did several years ago: Offer a bullet-proof warranty as a proxy for vehicle quality because extended warranties demonstrate "a brand's faith in its products."
Brands should also add to vehicles' features, materials and finishes that have a rich feel, and make sure new models launch with better quality than their predecessors. Sargent says they should also tell the dependability story by posting real data on improvements on social media channels like blogs, Facebook and Twitter, as well as through traditional channels.
Problems notwithstanding, Toyota had more segment winners -- four -- than any other brand, winning for its Highlander, Prius, Sequoia, and Tundra. Honda captured three segment awards, Lincoln two, and Audi, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Ford, Chevy, Lexus, Mazda, Mercedes and Mercury one each.
But the domestic brands dominated in overall score, with Lincoln improving by six rank positions from 2009, which puts the Ford brand in second place overall after Porsche. The firm says 7 of the 10 models with the lowest incidence of problems in the industry are from Ford and General Motors, and Buick and Mercury are also in the top five, as is Lexus.
J.D. Power says Cadillac DTS has the fewest problems in the industry, meaning that for the first time in over a decade, a domestic automaker's vehicle has achieved the best score in the Vehicle Dependability Study.