I am geek who loves to get to the bottom of myths and legends, as well as claims by auto makers in commercials. After watching several television commercials by a certain automaker bragging about earning more J.D. Power Initial Quality awards than any other brand, I decided to do a little research. Should I really be impressed by all these awards? What exactly do they measure?
The first point is the numbers game. Claiming that your brand has more J.D. Power Initial Quality awards than any other brand has do with the number of models that you sell. Chevy has the most models on the J.D. Power Initial Quality awards list, but Chevy also produces a large number of models when you look at their line of cars and trucks. On the long list of 2016 Initial Quality Ratings I was surprised to see models such as the Hyundai Accent, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Azera, and Kia Soul on the list, all made by the Hyundai Motor Company.
The other issue with the automaker bragging is the value of measuring initial quality. The definition of initial quality is defined as problems experienced by vehicle owners during the first 90 days of ownership. The first 90 days, that's not a long period of time. I am pretty happy with my 2008 Mercury Milan, 9 years and 185,000 miles later, and I have never had a major problem. Seems like quality should be measured in larger increments than 90 days.
Studies skewed by modern technology
J.D. Power has two major areas for automobiles, the annual Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) and Initial Quality Study (IQS). I thought I would dig deeper and look for the longer term dependability ratings. Instead of finding more answers, my search raised many questions of the value of their dependability ratings.
In the world today people see an automotive as more than an transportation vehicle, they see the automobile as a collection of gadgets and gizmos attached to a vehicle on wheels. Because of this infatuation with technology, issues with entertainment systems and Bluetooth connections can skew automotive dependability ratings.
An article on Autoblog, "J.D. Power needs to rethink its Vehicle Dependability Study," makes the statement, "A poor Bluetooth pairing procedure is not the same as a blown engine."
The Autoblog article explains how the ratings are skewed by modern technology.
"If an owner can't get his or her phone to connect via Bluetooth to the audio system, that's a problem. If an owner's audible command isn't properly deciphered by that annoying synthesized voice all infotainment systems seem plagued by, that's a problem. But are either of those problems as serious as a transmission that won't shift, or an engine that won't start? Not by my standards. But by J.D. Power's, the answer is yes."
An article in Forbes, "Inside The 'Real' J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Ratings" also explains how the ratings are skewed by modern technology.
"Apparently the notion of what qualifies as an unreliable car no longer means one that leaves its owner stranded at the side of the road or otherwise requires frequent repairs. Today it’s stretched to encompass what some of us might consider minor inconveniences, particularly balky voice control systems and difficulty with Bluetooth mobile phone pairing and connectivity. Issues with electronics now account for 20% of all consumer-reported car problems in J.D. Power’s survey."
Remember when a car was just a car?
If you dig into some of these studies on dependability you will find brands of vehicles where there are better engines and drivetrains with fewer problems, but the overall brands rate lower because of issues with Bluetooth connections or voice activated entertainment systems. Going back to quote the Autoblog article, "A poor Bluetooth pairing procedure is not the same as a blown engine."
I've owned quite a few cars in my lifetime, and a few had major engine problems. I am pretty happy with a car that is 9 years and has 185,000 miles on it. Yea, the voice activated audio system sometimes doesn't understand what I am saying and I sometimes swear at it when the Bluetooth gets temperamental and decides not to connect to my phone. But it is the most reliable car I have ever owned.
There was a time when someone talked about the dependability of a car, they were primarily talking about the engine and drivetrain, the major components of a car. Issues with electronics in a car meant static on your radio. If your car radio gave you fits, you ripped it out and through in a new one. Maybe an upgrade with a tape deck!
After reading several articles explaining these vehicle dependability studies and initial quality studies, I am reminded of a quote by Mark Twain, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."
Image: Screenshot from 1970 Mercury commercial
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