• Mar 3, 2006
Are the current crop of vehicles, from compact cars to the largest SUVs and trucks, the best consumers can expect from automakers? That is the question posed (and answered) in the latest Consumer Reports (CR) according to James Healey of USA Today. (Pictured is CR's 'Fun to Drive' top pick, the Subaru Impreza WRX/STi.)
[More information after the jump.]
According to the CR article, the ‘best’ is 12 problems per 100 vehicles, which is currently achieved by Japanese automakers like Toyota. Domestic vehicles are holding steady at 17 while European models are at 20 to 21 problems per 100. Because the figures have not changed for the past five years, CR and other analysts conclude that quality issues have plateaued. This does not sit well with Ford, for example, which recognizes CR’s influence among consumers.

"We've reached a difficult level to break," says Anne Stevens, Chief Operations Officer of the company’s North and South American operations. "That doesn't mean don't keep trying."

Reasons for this plateau include the increased use of electronics in modern vehicles and how much benefit (aka potential profit) a vehicle is worth versus its total cost to manufacture. According to Jim Hossack of AutoPacific, further refinement and/or improvement by the automakers "would cost the manufacturer more than it's worth. It might not be a technical issue, but a practical, economic limit."

Are today's vehicles the best automakers can make? Or is it just a short pause before the next major leap?


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 20 Comments
      • 8 Years Ago
      So we have people comparing something clearly subject to diminishing returns and cost/benefit with bogus quotes from a favorite punching bag (hint: no one can find a source for that quote and the Intel 8088 could not address more than 1MB or RAM, a hardware limitation. Hmm).

      Ahh, and someone thinks their ABS must be programmed by a spiky-haired 22 year-old...I guess you don't know any actual, professional software engineers or have a clue about the processes that go into making software for these kinds of applications.

      Meanwhile, before someone whips out another snappy quote, lets consider some actually relevent situations from the real world:

      In air travel, speeds reached 500+ MPH in 50's. They've barely budged, not because it can't be done, but because it makes no economic sense to fly people faster.

      Also, let's consider speed of cars. $20,000 could get you a car capable of going 150 MPH, but what about 200, 250, 300? See the problem. Eventually it costs $20K just to go 1 MPH faster.

      It's the same with quality. At some point, the cost of another improvement outweighs the benefit. That doesn't mean that quality will not improve, but it does mean that consumers should probably not expect it to improve noticeably.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Since 80% of the technology to appear in the next 10 years has not been developed yet, no, quality for cars has NOT reached its peak.
      To think there's any finality to anything is moronic.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Manufacturing processes will just have to catchup. When it becomes cheaper to build higher quality vehicles they'll start improving their numbers. But, I think R&D at some of the (domestic) makers, might be cut too much to allow development in that area.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Can cars be more reliable than they are right now? Of course. Now, *would* they do that? No, because manufacturers intentionally engineer parts to fail after a certain number of years.

      "The Japanese are taking over all segments - I think Lexus, scary to write, makes the better made car than Benz today."

      True, but man they're as fun as watching paint dry. Designs have been getting better since they have their own design division (finally), but all they still do is rip off BMW or Mercedes.
      • 8 Years Ago
      I would say that the quality of the domestics has increased in leaps and bounds even in the last 12 months. They were very good before, but I think they are very close to quality leaders -- not in all the cars, but GM, Ford, and definately Chrysler have some steller examples.
      J-Man
      • 8 Years Ago
      'doh...mispost.

      Given the plethora of car manufacturer influenced, enthusist magazines on the market that only focus on performance and styling, CR is FAR more reliable in providing unbiased information to the general public. Just where else are consumers supposed to get REAL WORLD information about cars?

      It isn't like the average consumer is going to go to engineering school to obtain information on how their car works or spend thousands of dollars obtaining the tools necessary to fix a modern automobile. What about women? No chauvinism intended, but they tend to not get involved in things like fixing cars. Sorry, but your comment is the equivalent of expecting average consumers to go out and fix their own televisions, put together their own computers, and or perform minor surgery on themselves. YOU state that "anybody in auto biz or is remotely passionate"...well there you have it. Like 99% of America, I am not in the car business...but even as an enthusiast, I can appreciate CR's information. To discard it as mere "dribble" leads many to believe that it is this exact close-mindedness that has allowed American car companies to fall behind in quality and pride.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Regarding air travel... you're right, look at the Sonic Cruiser, buyers didn't have a viable business case for it, so it didn't get developed.

      However, product improvement come about plenty often, such as the Boeing 787, through a tremendous change in technology it reduces the acquisition cost of the product, reduces maintenance costs, and reduces operating cost. All due to game-changing shifts in MANUFACTURING process and technology. Similarly, I believe improvements in automotive manufacturing process technology will eventually result in higher quality cars because it will reduce the cost of implementing quality enhancements that already exist but haven't met the cost/benefit requirements necessary for implementation.
      • 8 Years Ago
      This is the rate for "serious problems" in "first year" cars.

      At least two things are unclear:

      1. What counts as a "serious problem?" I discuss this further in my critique of CR: http://www.truedelta.com/pieces/shortcomings.php.

      My understanding is that CR's survey leaves it somewhat up to the respondent what counts as "serious," opening the door for bias. My own research asks more precisely defined questions.

      2. How old are the cars? CR's survey is in the spring. So aside from early intro 2005s, the cars were at most six or seven months old, and often far less than that. To get the 12/100 rate, are they extrapolating out to a full year? Or is this for the average car that responded, which will vary by when the model year reached dealers and when particular respondents bought cars? Or do they adjust for the overall average age of about three months? Based on the information they provide, I have no idea.

      Beyond these issues, people increasingly define reliability as having no problems for the first 5, 6, even 7 years of ownership, not just a low problem rate in the first 90 days. This is why JD Power's 90-day IQS is increasingly irrevelant, and even the 3-year VDS is marginal for many people.

      • 8 Years Ago
      All surveys that uses time as a baseline of how trouble free a car is, is a flawed survey. Quality Surveys should be based on miles used. That way, a buyer can expect a certain amount of maintenance over the life of the car. A car sitting in the garage most of the time with little usage for 1 year is not the same as a car accumulating thousands of miles - quality reporting wise.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Consumer Reports rating and testing automobiles is the equivalent of Evander Holyfield saying he's a professional dancer now that he's been featured on dancing with the stars. The only reason CR is remotely influential on anyones buying decision is because the general public are sheep and generally don't know squat about automobiles. Anyone in the auto biz or even remotely passionate about it does NOT read their dribble. PERIOD.
      • 8 Years Ago
      It sounds like this plateau is due to cost-benefit analysis, and not because cars never break anymore.

      Until my car's indestructible, quit with the self-congratulation and get back to work. A 12% defect rate is hardly something to crow about.
      J-Man
      • 8 Years Ago
      >> Consumer Reports rating and testing automobiles is the equivalent of Evander Holyfield saying he's a professional dancer now that he's been featured on dancing with the stars. The only reason CR is remotely influential on anyones buying decision is because the general public are sheep and generally don't know squat about automobiles. Anyone in the auto biz or even remotely passionate about it does NOT read their dribble. PERIOD.
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