As automakers have made engines smaller and smaller to improve fuel economy, problems in those vehicles have gotten bigger and bigger. That's the synopsis of a J.D. Power vehicle-dependability study, which found that dependability dropped for the first time in 16 years, largely because the proliferation of four-cylinder engines is causing the vehicles to be less reliable. Specifically, the number of problems per 100 vehicles (or what J.D. Power calls PP100) during the past 12 months for 2011 model-year vehicles rose six percent from the year-earlier figures for 2010 model-year cars. Singling out four-cylinder vehicles revealed about a 10-percent increase in problems during the past year.
This issues largely related to engine hesitation, rough transmission shifting and lack of power, signaling the inability of vehicle makers to iron out some of the problems in their smaller engines as they strove for better fuel economy. Six- and five-cylinder engines proved far more reliable.
Among car brands, BMW's Mini sub-brand came out as least reliable, with 185 problems per 100 vehicles during the past year. Toyota's Lexus badge was easily the most reliable, with just 68 problems per 100 vehicles. Coming in second place was Mercedes-Benz. The overall average was 133. Check out J.D. Power's press release below.
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WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif.: ó Owners of 3-year-old vehicles (2011 model year) report more problems than did owners of 3-year-old vehicles last year, according to the J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Vehicle Dependability StudySM (VDS) released today.
The study, now in its 25th year, examines problems experienced during the past 12 months by original owners of 2011 model-year vehicles. Overall dependability is determined by the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles (PP100), with a lower score reflecting higher quality.
The study finds that overall vehicle dependability averages 133 PP100, a 6 percent increase in problems from 126 PP100 in 2013. This marks the first time since the 1998 study that the average number of problems has increased.
"Until this year, we have seen a continual improvement in vehicle dependability," said David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power. "However, some of the changes that automakers implemented for the 2011 model year have led to a noticeable increase in problems reported."
Increases in Engine and Transmission Problems Reported
Engine and transmission problems increase by nearly 6 PP100 year over year, accounting for the majority of the overall 7 PP100 increase in reported problems. The decline in quality is particularly acute for vehicles with 4-cylinder engines, where problem levels increase by nearly 10 PP100. These smaller engines, as well as large diesel engines, tend to be more problematic than 5- and 6-cylinder engines, for which owners report fewer problems, on average.
"Automakers are continually looking for ways to improve fuel economy, which is a primary purchase motivator for many consumers, particularly those buying smaller vehicles," said Sargent. "However, while striving to reduce fuel consumption, automakers must be careful not to compromise quality. Increases in such problems as engine hesitation, rough transmission shifts and lack of power indicate that this is a continuing challenge."
Dependability Leads to Loyalty; Poor Dependability Creates Avoidance
J.D. Power also finds that the fewer problems owners experience with their vehicle, the greater their loyalty to the brand. Combined data from previous years' VDS results and vehicle trade-in data from the Power Information NetworkÆ (PIN) from J.D. Power show that 56 percent of owners who reported no problems stayed with the same brand when they purchased their next new vehicle. Brand loyalty slipped to just 42 percent among owners who reported three or more problems.
Also, a comparison of data from the 2013 Vehicle Dependability Study with data from the subsequent J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Avoider StudySM shows that consumers are much more likely to avoid vehicles from brands that rank lower in dependability. On average, 23 percent of consumers avoided brands that ranked in the lowest quartile of the 2013 VDS because of concerns about reliability. In contrast, only 9 percent of consumers cited that same reason for avoiding brands that ranked in the top quartile.
"By combining our customer research with trade-in data, we see a very strong correlation between dependability and real-world brand loyalty," said Sargent. "Also, we see that brands with lower dependability are likely to be shut out of a significant piece of the market, as many consumers will not even consider purchasing one of their vehicles because of concerns about its likely reliability."
Highest-Ranked Nameplates and Models
Lexus ranks highest in vehicle dependability among all nameplates for a third consecutive year. The gap between Lexus and all other brands is substantial, with Lexus averaging 68 PP100 compared with second-ranked Mercedes-Benz at 104 PP100. Following Mercedes-Benz in the rankings are Cadillac (107), Acura (109) and Buick (112), respectively.
General Motors Company receives eight segment awardsómore than any other automaker in 2014ófor the Buick Lucerne; Cadillac DTS (tie); Cadillac Escalade; Chevrolet Camaro; Chevrolet Volt; GMC Sierra HD; GMC Sierra LD; and GMC Yukon. Toyota Motor Corporation garners seven awards for the Lexus ES; Lexus GS; Lexus LS (tie); Lexus RX; Scion xB; Toyota Camry; and Toyota Sienna. Honda Motor Company receives six model-level awards for the Acura RDX; Honda CR-V; Honda Crosstour; Honda Element; Honda Fit; and Honda Ridgeline. MINI receives one model-level award for the MINI Cooper.
The Vehicle Dependability Study is used extensively by manufacturers and suppliers worldwide to help them design and build better vehicles, which typically translates into higher resale values and customer loyalty. It also helps consumers make more-informed choices for both new- and used-vehicle purchases.
The 2014 Vehicle Dependability Study is based on responses from more than 41,000 original owners of 2011 model-year vehicles after three years of ownership. The study was fielded between October and December 2013.
Find more detailed information on vehicle dependability, as well as model photos and specs, at JDPower.com.