Blame Bluetooth, As J.D. Power IQS Slips

Overweight key fobs and ignitions are in the news but it’s telematics that have owners of new cars and trucks scratching their heads. Disappointment and frustration with audio and phone interfaces have hurt scores in J.D. Power & Associates' 2014 Initial Quality Study (IQS). 

The study, which the firm has been fielding every year for over a quarter century, looks at problems owners have within the first three months of rolling their cars off the dealer lot. The results, based on a 233-question poll of 86,000 purchasers and lessees of new 2014 model-year vehicles, show a 3% increase, to 116 problems per 100 vehicles versus 113 problems last year. 

These scores are critical, whether over three months or three years (the latter measured by the Vehicle Dependability Study, which showed similar declines this year.) The firm says 57% of owners who reported no problems stayed with the same brand when they purchased their next new vehicle. That slips to 53% among owners who reported just a single problem, and to 48% among owners who reported two or more problems.



“Even problems experienced in the first 90 days correlate strongly with ultimate repurchase behavior,” said Dave Sargent, VP of global automotive at the firm, in the study. “These early problems can set the tone for the entire ownership period and still have an effect years later when consumers replace their vehicle.”

Blame the lower scores on problems with totally new car and truck nameplates, and those that were totally redesigned. The firm found that, on average, these newborns had 128 problems per 100 vehicles versus 113 for new cars that haven't been changed or whose revisions weren't dramatic ("face-lifted" in auto argot). And the problems are associated with technology interface: things like voice recognition, Bluetooth pairing and audio systems.

“Automakers are trying to give consumers the new features and technology they want without introducing additional quality problems into their vehicles,” said Sargent. “However, almost all automakers are struggling to do this flawlessly with some consumers indicating that the technology is hard to understand, difficult to use, or simply does not always work as designed.”

The other big issue has been harsh weather. While consumers in the South and West regions of the country reported the same level of problems as in 2013, Northeast and Midwest regions report 117 problems per 100 vehicles this year, versus 112 last year. The areas needing attention are HVAC (heating, ventilation and air), exterior, and engine and transmission categories.

Said Sargent, “Engines and transmissions aren’t as smooth when cold, and exterior moldings and paint all take some punishment. Consumers generally understand this but still report problems when their vehicle does not wholly live up to their expectations.”

Let's do the numbers: J.D. Power says Porsche ranks highest in initial quality among all nameplates. It was also on top last year. Owners reported only 74 problems per 100. Jaguar is followed by Lexus and Hyundai.

General Motors Company really needs this news: it got six segment awards, which for a second consecutive year is more than any other automaker. Buick Encore; Chevrolet Malibu; Chevrolet Silverado HD; Chevrolet Suburban; GMC Terrain; and GMC Yukon won. 

Hyundai Motor Company received five awards for the Accent; Elantra; Genesis; Kia Cadenza; and Kia Sportage. Other corporations with multiple award recipients are Ford, Nissan Corp. (including Infiniti), Volkswagen AG (including Porsche), Fiat Chrysler Automobiles; and Mazda. 

Another research firm, AutoPacific, in its Vehicle Satisfaction Awards, polls some 92,000 consumers to get a pulse on the ownership experience based 50 vehicle attributes determining owner experience. In its 18th annual VSA, the company gives Lincoln the nod as top premium brand and GMC as top popular brand. GMC moving from 17th to 8th position; Lincoln moving from 6th position to 1st position.

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