J.D. Power has become a household name thanks to the organization's yearly awards based on in-depth consumer surveys about all manner of goods and services. In the automotive industry, manufacturers constantly struggle to best each other for top honors, and that struggle has helped push the industry toward ever-better quality. But as Ward's Auto points out, few people know the man behind the name.

James David Power III began licensing manufacturers to use his award in advertisements in 1986, two years after Subaru dropped the J.D. Power name in a Super Bowl ad.

In 2005, Power sold J.D. Power and Associates to publishing giant McGraw-Hill, but stayed on with the company until 2009. Even after his departure, Ward's Auto says Power is proud of the empire he helped build. While outlets like Consumer Reports have gained a substantial following, the organization only polls its own subscribers, while J.D. Power takes its data from a larger cross section of consumers.

Using a separate operation to keep conflicts of interest at bay, companies must pay a fee to be able to use the J.D. Power name in their ads. Yet J.D. Power is not without controversy – auto companies pay substantial fees for access to its various quality metrics and counsel, leading critics to suggest there's a conflict of interest in having a quality auditor paid by the very companies it monitors. In addition, critics note that the company's much ballyhooed Initial Quality Study isn't purely a study of manufacturing defects, but rather an arcane formula that mixes actual owner problems with design flaws (think: cupholders that can't hold a Venti Frappucino from Starbucks). As most consumers are likely to equate the idea of quality with a product free of problems, the thought is that this is somewhat misleading methodology.

Either way, there's no doubting J.D. Power's impact on the auto biz – both the company and the man who bears its name. To learn more about him, check out the in-depth Ward's Auto article at the link below.

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