Models like the Cayenne helped Porsche take top honors ... Models like the Cayenne helped Porsche take top honors in the 2010 Vehicle Dependability Study (Porsche).

J.D. Power and Associates released its 2010 Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) today and the brand at the top of the rankings was Porsche, a massive leap for the German automaker. Up 10 spots from 2009, Porsche climbed to the top of the podium with Lincoln took the second spot. Buick, Lexus and Mercury completed the top five rankings, respectively.
According to J.D. Power and Associates, results of the VDS are reflective of a steady trend in industry-wide improvement. In other words, the bar is continuing to be raised and the auto companies seem to be keeping up in kind.

“The improvements in long-term dependability and component replacement rates are good news for both consumers and manufacturers,” said David Sargent, VP of global vehicle research at J.D. Power and Associates. “Manufacturers benefit from lower warranty expenses, while consumers incur lower maintenance and repair costs, as well as less inconvenience.”

The VDS measured problems experienced by original owners of 3-year-old cars (from 2007 model year) and included 198 different problem symptoms across all parts of the vehicle. The number of problems owners experienced per 100 vehicles (PP100) determined the overall dependability. Thus, a lower score is indicative of higher quality.

Top Models per Segment

Sub-Compact CarHonda Fit
Compact CarToyota Prius
Compact Sporty CarMazda MX-5 Miata
Midsize Sporty CarChevrolet Monte Carlo
Midsize CarBuick LaCrosse
Large CarMercury Montego
Compact Premium Sporty CarBMW Z4
Entry Premium VehicleLincoln MKZ
Midsize Premium CarAudi A6
Large Premium CarCadillac DTS
Premium Sporty CarMercedes-Benz SL-Class

Source: J.D. Power and Associates

Overall, Porsche scored 110 PP100 this year to claim the top spot. Lincoln scored 114, Buick and Lexus each scored 115, and Mercury scored 121. These top 5 scores were all well above the industry average of 155 PP100.

Several other automakers also boasted excellent scores for individual models in the study. Toyota earned 4 segment awards for the Highlander, Prius, Sequoia, and Tundra. Honda claimed 3 awards for the CR-V, Fit, and Ridgeline. Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Ford, Mazda, and Mercedes-Benz, all received a single award for one of their models as well.

The domestic automakers performed exceptionally well in the 2010 VDS, as they owned 7 of the top 10 models with the lowest incidence of problems per 100 vehicles. The Cadillac DTS was found to have the fewest problems in the entire auto industry, the first time in over a decade that the honor went to an American auto company.

The numbers produced by the VDS are extremely important to the auto companies, as vehicle dependability has become a top-deciding factor in the brands that consumers consider and ultimately purchase. Dependability also plays a major part in brand loyalty. The study found that among owners that did not experience problems with their vehicle, 43% said they “definitely” would purchase their current brand again. That percentage, however, plummeted to 28% when owners experienced one or more problems with their vehicle.

Brand Misperceptions

Interestingly, the study found that consumers avoid certain brands due to concerns about long-term dependability, despite the fact that they scored well in the VDS. Among these brands were Cadillac, Ford, Hyundai, Lincoln, and Mercury. The lag between dependability performance and consumer perception illustrates a big issue for many of the companies: doing well in the study is often not enough.

“Producing vehicles with world-class quality is just part of the battle for automakers; convincing consumers to believe in their quality is equally as important,” said Sargent. “It takes considerable time to positively change consumer perceptions of quality and dependability-sometimes a decade or more-so it is vital for manufacturers to continually improve quality and also to convince consumers of these gains.”

Sargent recommended that these brands focus on improving their public perception by providing extended warranties, incorporating new features that “have a rich feel,” and launching new models that have even better quality than their predecessors. He also looked to automakers to increase their communication efforts, especially through social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter.

Overall Good News

The VDS reported that overall vehicle dependability improved by 7% in 2010, with an average of 155 PP100, down from 167 PP100 in 2009. An additional decrease was found in the rate of component replacement, with 65% of owners indicating that they replaced a vehicle component in 2010, down from 68% in 2009.

The information provided by the VDS is good news for consumers across the board. With increasing dependability by almost all brands in 2010, we can look to see a continuation of the trend as brands compete for customer loyalty through the production of higher and higher quality vehicles.

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