Initial quality is down after years of improvement. In the latest J.D. Power and Associates IQS (initial quality study), 2011 new model launches declined by 10%. But models that have not had a big change in design, carryover models, have seen better initial quality than before.
Lexus is the top brand in terms of overall initial quality, while Honda, with seven winners, has the most vehicle segment leaders for Accord, Accord Crosstour, Civic, Element, Fit, Insight and Ridgeline. Chevrolet, Ford and Mercedes-Benz receive two awards each.
The firm says only seven all-new or redesigned models rank among the top three of their respective award segments, compared with 17 models in 2010, and only one launch model won a segment award this year versus five launch models in 2010. A quarter of redesigned models did better in initial quality than did the previous-generation models they replaced last year, and only eight all-new models perform above their respective award segment average.
The problem lies in glitches with engine and transmission and in-car telematics technology. J.D. Power's report says that in the case of engines, "with high fuel prices and more stringent government regulations, automakers are designing engine and transmission software to make their models as economical as possible. However, this sometimes leads to the engine or transmission hesitating when accelerating or changing gears." Thus, consumers this year are reporting this as a problem more often than in past years.
On the in-car tech side of things, consumers are finding it challenging to work multimedia technology, hands-free and voice-activation systems, and they are saying the systems don't function properly.
"Clearly, consumers are interested in having new technology in their vehicles, but automakers must ensure that the technology is ready for prime time," said J.D. Power analyst Dave Sargent in a statement. "There is an understandable desire to bring these technologies to market quickly, but automakers must be careful to walk before they run."
Sargent might well have been referring to Ford, which took the biggest hit in IQS ranking because owners have grappled with the MyFord Touch communications interface, and transmission issues around the dual clutch automatic. Ford fell from fifth place last year to 23rd place this year. Lincoln dropped from 8 to 17 this year.
The Top 10 brands were Lexus, Honda, Acura, Mercedes-Benz, Mazda, Porsche, Toyota, Infiniti, and General Motors' Cadillac and GMC brands.