For several years there has been convergence in the automotive market. No, we're not speaking of integrated media technology, Internet TV in the back seat (though that is happening) or (god forbid) the return of badge engineering. It's about quality. Even as recently as a decade ago the essential differences between brands in terms of build quality were substantial. Now you need a micrometer to measure them.
While that makes for a more competitive market, it also means that very small differences are amplified in rankings to positive or deleterious effect.
Tustin, Calif.-based auto research firm Strategic Vision in its 18th annual Total Quality Index tries to get around that with what it calls a holistic measure of quality that goes beyond product fit and finish and technology. The survey-based study takes some 155 vehicle quality parameters and throws them in the pot with measures of influence and perception. Also in the stew is an experience measure based on 442 variables to determine an "I Love It," "Delightful," "Excellent," "Satisfactory," and "Failure" perspective on a product.
This is the first year that domestics dominated. Chrysler's Town & Country minivan, Dodge Dart, Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and Ford Fusion made the top of their segments in Total Quality. Volkswagen has been on top, at the corporate level, for the past eight years. Audi, its luxury division, tied with Lexus for the best individual brand this year. Ford Motor Company is second at the corporate level, followed by a statistical tie for third place with General Motors Corporation and Hyundai Motor Corporation. The latter's Genesis sedan ties with Audi's A4 for top quality in the near-luxury region of the market (15 years ago you might have been institutionalized for saying that Hyundai would one day field a near-luxury vehicle, much less a bona fide luxury car.)
Alexander Edwards, the firm's president, tells Marketing Daily that the results have to do with more than just how nicely the door thumps when it closes. "It's a holistic view of how customers perceive quality by looking at actual number of problems, the impact they have on customer ownership experience, and what has gone right to create a positive emotional experience,” he says. “While you won't get many people to say, for example, that the dealership influences perception of quality, subconsciously it does. It's an emotional connection that determines advocacy and repurchase intent."
He adds that the influence each variable exerts depends on the vehicle category. "A comfortable seat is more important in a minivan, while acceleration and distance to stop has more importance in a sporty coupe."
Strategic Vision said GM had success with Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Volt, Traverse, Corvette Coupe/Convertible, Avalanche and GMC Yukon. Ford Fusion was number one with in mid-size cars, and. Dodge Dart won in the small car category, which is very good news for the Chrysler LLC division, as the car launched last year against a large and highly competitive segment.
Kia Soul was the leader in the popular Small Multi-Function Segment and Kia had several others of its models finishing near the top. Toyota Motor Sales has regrouped well with redesigned Lexus LS being the best among demanding Luxury Car buyers.