J.D. Power Initial Quality Study highlights infotainment woes, puts Lexus on top

Despite an overall increase in overall quality of five percent, automakers are continuing to struggle with in-car technologies, says J.D. Power in its annual Initial Quality Study. Owners reports of problems with factory-installed hands-free communication devices has increased 137 percent since 2009, when such infotainment solutions were offered mostly in high-end models only.

But first, some good statistics: 26 out of 34 brands represented in the study posted improvements this year over their 2011 scores, with 65 percent of the 185 individual models boasting higher scores than last year. Even brand-new nameplates are performing well in 2012 – 11 all-new or redesigned models scored better than average, equaling a 12-percent improvement from 2011.

Coming in first place for 2012 is Lexus, the second year in a row Toyota's luxury brand has taken top honors. Second place is shared by Jaguar and Porsche, with the former leaping an impressive 18 positions over its 2011 score. Fourth and fifth are grabbed by Cadillac and Honda, respectively. Fourteen different brands earned accolades for individual models, "A positive indication of how widespread high quality is among automakers," says David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power and Associates.

Ford, which was hit hard in 2011 due to problems with its MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch systems, came in at a lowly 28 out of 35. Bennie Fowler, Ford's group vice president of global quality, had said the automaker expected to "be about the same or slightly better" than last year's 23rd. Not quite... but it could be worse: Last place is shared by Fiat and Smart.

Continuing with the frequently heard technology gripes, Sargent says, "Automakers and suppliers are working hard to ... make the driving experience safer, more convenient and more entertaining. However, the most innovative technology in the world will quickly create dissatisfaction if owners can't get it to work."

We would add, though, that this study polls users after just 90 days with a new car. We wonder if the scores might improve once owners get more familiar with their in-car technology. In any case, feel free to peruse the press blast below, which includes graphs comparing each individual automaker.

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Despite Continuing Challenges with In-Vehicle Technology, Automakers Post a Strong Improvement in Initial Quality

Lexus Is the Highest-Ranked Nameplate for a Second Consecutive Year;
Toyota Motor Corporation Receives Five Model-Level Awards;
General Motors Company and Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. Garner Four Awards Each

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif.: 20 June 2012 -- As the U.S. automotive industry continues to recover, vehicle manufacturers post the strongest improvement in initial quality since 2009 and are producing higher-quality vehicles than ever before, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2012 U.S. Initial Quality StudySM (IQS) released today.

Overall initial quality for the industry improves by 5 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) to average 102 PP100 in 2012--an improvement of 5 percent from 2011. There are year-over-year gains in most areas of initial quality, with one notable exception--audio, entertainment, and navigation problems have increased by 8 percent from 2011. This continues a recent trend, as problems in this category have increased by 45 percent since 2006 while other categories have improved by 24 percent, on average.

As manufacturers introduce increasingly sophisticated multimedia systems designed to enhance the ownership experience, owners more frequently cite these systems as a source of quality problems. For the first time in the 26-year history of the study, owners report more problems related to audio, entertainment, and navigation systems than in any other vehicle area. This is driven in part by a rapid increase in the fitment of new technology, such as voice recognition on mainstream models.

"Until recently, this type of sophisticated technology was found primarily on high-end models" said David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power and Associates. "However, over the past few years it has rapidly found its way into the automotive mainstream. For example, in 2012, more than 80 percent of owners indicate that their new vehicle has some form of hands-free technology."

Specifically, the number of owner-reported problems with factory-installed hands-free communication devices has increased 137 percent during the past four years. In fact, hands-free devices not recognizing commands has become the most-often-reported problem in the industry.

"As smartphones become ubiquitous in the lives of consumers and are ever-more sophisticated, expectations about the complementary technologies being offered in new models will only get higher," said Sargent. "Automakers and suppliers are working hard to meet those expectations with systems intended to make the driving experience safer, more convenient and more entertaining. However, the most innovative technology in the world will quickly create dissatisfaction if owners can't get it to work."

Other key findings from the study include:
Of the 34 brands ranked in the 2012 IQS, 26 have improved from 2011, five have declined, one scores the same as in 2011 and two were not included in the 2011 study.
Of the 185 models ranked in both the 2012 and 2011 IQS, 65 percent have improved.
The average quality of all-new or redesigned models improves 12 percent compared with 2011, with eleven all-new or redesigned models performing better than their segment average.
The Initial Quality Study, now in its 26th year, serves as the industry benchmark for new-vehicle quality measured at 90 days of ownership. The study is used extensively by manufacturers worldwide to help them design and build better models and by consumers to help them in their vehicle purchase decisions. Initial quality has been shown throughout the years to be an excellent initial indicator of long-term durability, which directly impacts consumer purchase decisions. The study captures problems experienced by owners in two distinct categories: design-related problems and defects and malfunctions.

2012 IQS Ranking Highlights
Lexus is the highest-ranked nameplate in the industry for a second consecutive year, averaging 73 PP100. With 75 PP100 each, Jaguar and Porsche follow Lexus in a tie to rank second. Jaguar posts the largest improvement in the study--reducing problems by 39 PP100 and vaulting from the 20th rank position in 2011. Cadillac (80 PP100) and Honda (83 PP100) round out the top five rank positions.

Among the 21 model-level segment awards, Ford and Lexus receive three each. Ford earns awards for the Expedition, Mustang and Taurus, and Lexus garners awards for the ES 350, LS and RX. Receiving two segment awards each are Infiniti (EX-Series, M-Series); Nissan (Frontier, Quest); and Toyota (Corolla, Yaris). The Porsche 911 ranks highest in the premium sporty segment and achieves 44 PP100, the lowest PP100 score since the study was redesigned in 2006.

Also receiving segment awards are the Buick Enclave; Cadillac Escalade; Chevrolet Malibu; GMC Sierra LD; Honda CR-V; Kia Soul; Mazda MX-5 Miata; and Volvo C70.

"While in past years a handful of brands tended to collect numerous segment awards, 14 different brands receive segment awards in 2012--this is only the second time in the history of the study that so many different brands achieved award status," said Sargent. "This is a positive indication of how widespread high quality is among automakers, with most brands producing a number of models with exceptional quality levels."

Plant Assembly Line Quality Awards
Honda Motor Company's Suzuka 3, Mie (Sss) plant in Japan, which produces the Honda CR-Z and Fit, receives the Platinum Plant Assembly Line Quality Award for producing models yielding the fewest defects or malfunctions. Plant awards are based solely on average levels of defects and malfunctions and exclude design-related problems.

Among plants in the North/South America region, the Toyota Motor Corporation Cambridge South, Ontario, plant, which produces the Lexus RX, receives a Gold Plant Assembly Line Quality Award.

In the Europe and Africa region, Volvo receives a Gold Plant Assembly Line Quality Award for the Uddevalla, Sweden, plant, which produces the Volvo C70 in a joint venture with Pininfarina.

The 2012 U.S. Initial Quality Study is based on responses from more than 74,000 purchasers and lessees of new 2012 model-year cars, trucks and multi-activity vehicles surveyed after 90 days of ownership. The study is based on a 228-question battery designed to provide manufacturers with information to facilitate identification of problems and drive product improvement. The study was fielded between February and May 2012.

About J.D. Power and Associates
Headquartered in Westlake Village, Calif., J.D. Power and Associates is a global marketing information services company operating in key business sectors including market research, forecasting, performance improvement, Web intelligence and customer satisfaction. The company's quality and satisfaction measurements are based on responses from millions of consumers annually. For more information on car reviews and ratings, car insurance, health insurance, cell phone ratings, and more, please visit J.D. Power and Associates is a business unit of The McGraw-Hill Companies.

About The McGraw-Hill Companies
McGraw-Hill announced on September 12, 2011, its intention to separate into two public companies: McGraw-Hill Financial, a leading provider of content and analytics to global financial markets, and McGraw-Hill Education, a leading education company focused on digital learning and education services worldwide. McGraw-Hill Financial's leading brands include Standard & Poor's Ratings Services, S&P Capital IQ, S&P Indices, Platts energy information services and J.D. Power and Associates. With sales of $6.2 billion in 2011, the Corporation has approximately 23,000 employees across more than 280 offices in 40 countries. Additional information is available at

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