Reliability Bugbear Is Back As VW's Implosion Hits Detroit

For several years, automakers have been on a convergent trajectory when it comes to the quality, durability and reliability of their vehicles. And, while these qualities are always stalwarts on shoppers’ lists of consideration points, there have — or had — been a shift toward the perception that quality is price of entry. That has been good news for automakers, especially the domestics, as the fact that quality had slid down the list of shopper consideration points, suggests that lots of people kind of expect all vehicles to be made well.    

Ratings companies still put imports near the top of the list, or on top in most cases, but one can’t help thinking those results involve a bit of favoring the champion in a close decision. Obviously, they have to do quality and reliability rankings; that’s their business. But calibrating those calipers must be getting hard. It’s not the ’70s, when you could tell a Fiero by the fire trucks. 

Uh, oh. Seems Volkswagen’s emission rigging, and consequent recalls, and recalls from other manufacturers may be changing things for the worse. According to J.D. Power’s latest Auto Avoider Study, for the first time in nearly a decade, concerns about reliability have increased as a reason shoppers avoid certain models. In other words, consumers no longer assume reliability as a given. 

This year, the 13th in which J.D. Power looked at why consumers purchase, reject and avoid models, 55% of new-vehicle buyers cite reliability as a leading purchase reason, making it number three after exterior and interior styling. Last year, 51% of car shoppers cited reliability was a key point, and in 2013 48% did. More importantly, perhaps, J.D. Power says reliability is also an avoidance driver, with 17% of new-car shoppers in 2016 saying that vs. 14% last year.

J.D. Power says the problem is both recalls and new technology, which can torpedo quality rankings, even if the car is structurally and mechanically indomitable. This happened to Ford in 2007, when it launched its in-car, hands-free infotainment system Sync, a partnership with Microsoft. Proof that being a first mover isn’t always wonderful, Ford’s initial satisfaction ratings at J.D. Power fell because people found the Sync problematic and complicated to use. Even in 2014, Consumer Reports, while giving Tesla the brass ring, trumpeted the descent of Ford. Why did Ford’s CR reliability ratings drop? Because of Sync and MyFord Touch. Maybe there needs to be a telematics/infotainment category.

And, yes, the work of changing consumer perception about vehicle quality and durability is like trying to turn an aircraft carrier by pushing against it while kicking. And the domestics are the ones in the water with flippers and muscle cramps. J.D. Power’s study says there is still a gap between reality and perception when it comes to quality of domestic cars, versus European and Asian brands. Avoidance of domestic models due to reliability concerns (24%) is nearly twice that of European (13%) and Asian (12%) models.

1 comment about "Reliability Bugbear Is Back As VW's Implosion Hits Detroit ".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, January 19, 2016 at 11 a.m.

    Remember when it was fun to read Consumer Reports because they used to dump on how poorly made so many cars were? Finally everyone caught on, and the reliability of all brands rose remarkably, making CR a dull read. The economy has made consumers attuned to reliability again, because few people can afford regular investments in car repair (not just maintenance), because of routine equipment failure. It's not an option.

    Brands in automotive, or any category, that take their consumers for granted do so at their own risk. Slacking off on reliability is doing just that.

Next story loading loading..