Domestic Cars: Most Problem-free

Last week we told you that several domestic vehicle brands just aren’t getting the recognition they deserve for product reliability and dependability. 

That has long been suspected by those of us in the industry, but it was confirmed by the recently released J.D. Power and Associates 2010 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study, which looks at the performance of 2007 model year vehicles.

Porsche led the overall nameplate rankings in 2010 -- consistent with its performance in the J.D. Power and Associates 2007 Initial Quality Study, which measures new-vehicle quality at 90 days of ownership -- and Ford’s Lincoln luxury division improved by six rank positions from 2009, to place second in the nameplate rankings. Rounding out the top five nameplates were (in descending order) Buick, Lexus and Mercury.

While three of the top five nameplates in dependability were domestic brands, the U.S.-based manufacturers enjoyed similar success at the model level, and that is important since individuals don’t buy a brand but an individual vehicle. With this in mind, the domestics’ performance at the model level is even more impressive. Seven of the 10 models with the lowest incidence of problems in the industry are from Ford and General Motors, including the 2007 model-year Buick Lacrosse, Buick Lucerne, Cadillac DTS, Ford Five Hundred, Lincoln MKZ, Mercury Milan and Mercury Montego.

The Cadillac DTS was the industry’s overall leader in dependability, recording the fewest problems, with just 76 problems per 100 vehicles. This marks the first time in more than a decade that a model from a domestic automaker has achieved the lowest PP100 score in this vehicle dependability study.

While the domestic brands were resurgent in vehicle reliability, some brands that have a reputation for strength in that area continued to reinforce that perception. Toyota has been buried in bad publicity for the last several months, but the brand continues to perform well in long-term dependability. It garnered four segment leader awards, more than any other nameplate in 2010. The Highlander crossover, Prius hybrid, Sequoia SUV and Tundra pickup were each top performers in their respective segments.

Honda received three segment awards for the CR-V small crossover, Fit small car and Ridgeline midsize pickup. Lincoln captured two awards for the Mark LT large SUV and MKZ sedan. In addition, Audi, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Ford, Lexus, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz and Mercury each received a model segment award.

Overall vehicle dependability improved by 7 percent in 2010 to an average of 155 PP100, compared with 167 PP100 in 2009 -- a rate that is consistent with historical industry gains. In addition to the improvement in overall dependability, the rate of component replacement has also been reduced from 2009. Approximately 65 percent of owners indicate they replaced a vehicle component in 2010, compared with 68 percent in 2009.

“The improvements in long-term dependability and component replacement rates are good news for both consumers and manufacturers,” said David Sargent, vice president 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 study also found that long-term dependability has a significant positive effect on repurchase intent. Among owners who say they did not experience problems with their vehicle, 43 percent indicate they “definitely will” repurchase their current brand. This figure declined to 28 percent among owners, who say they experienced at least one problem with their vehicle.

The 2010 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study is based on responses from more than 52,000 original owners of 2007 model year vehicles. The study was fielded in 2009, between October and December.