What’s the Most Dependable Vehicle Brand?

There is a new top dog in vehicle dependability, according to the just-released 2011 J.D. Power and Associates 2011 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS.) For the first time since the study began, Ford Motor Company’s Lincoln led all the nameplates in dependability. Lexus finished second, followed by (in order) Jaguar, Porsche and Toyota. The bottom five nameplates were (in ascending order from last) MINI, Jeep, Land Rover, Dodge and Chrysler.

So how does the market research giant define the term “dependability”? The dependability study measured problems experienced during the past 12 months by original owners of three-year-old (or, in this case, 2008 model-year) vehicles. If the vehicle had a problem prior to the last 12 months, it was not measured. Vehicle-owner participants were asked to consider 202 different problem symptoms across all areas of the vehicle. Relative overall dependability is determined by the level of problems experienced per 100 vehicles (PP100) versus other vehicles, with a lower score reflecting higher quality.

Among individual models, the Porsche 911 had the fewest problems in the industry, with just 68 PP100. Toyota Motor Corporation, which has been beleaguered by recalls in the past 14 months, continued to perform well in the J.D. Power study of long-term dependability. As a corporation, it collected seven top-in-segment awards, more than any other automaker in 2011. Other segment leaders in dependability included the Lexus RX, Scion xB, Toyota 4Runner, Toyota Prius, Toyota Sienna, Toyota Tacoma and Toyota Tundra. Ford Motor Company received four segment-leader awards for the Ford Fusion, Ford Mustang, Lincoln MKZ and Lincoln Navigator. General Motors (Buick Lucerne, Cadillac DTS, and Chevrolet Tahoe) and Honda Motor Company (Acura RL, Honda CR-V and Honda Fit) each received three segment-leader honors. Other segment leaders in dependability included the BMW X3, Mazda MX-5 Miata and Mercedes-Benz CLK.

An interesting finding was that, while domestic brands have closed the gap with import brands in initial quality (J.D. Power and Associates defines that as owner experiences in the first 90 days of ownership), there is still a considerable difference between domestic-brand vehicles and imports in long-term vehicle dependability. In the 2011 VDS, imported brands outperformed domestic brands by 18 PP100. Interestingly, domestic-brand cars actually have fewer problems (135 PP100, on average) than import-brand cars (147 PP100, on average), but import-brand trucks and crossover vehicles have considerably fewer problems than those of domestic brands. This belies the conventional wisdom that domestic manufacturers build great trucks, while the import manufacturers build great cars.

Vehicle dependability as a whole is getting better and better. In 2011, overall vehicle dependability averaged 151 PP100, which is the lowest problem rate since the inception of the study in 1990. Last year, the overall average was 170 PP100, but the pace of improvement is slowing. Between 2009 and 2011, annual improvement for the industry has averaged 6 percent, while industry improvement has averaged 8 percent each year during the past decade. The market research firm attributed the slowdown in improvement to increased rates of problems with electronic features (e.g., audio, entertainment and navigation systems) and new safety features (e.g., tire-pressure monitoring systems).

“Automakers, as a whole, have made significant improvements in reducing traditional problems -- particularly with vehicle interiors, engines and transmissions, and steering and braking during the past several years,” says David Sargent, vice president of global vehicle research at J.D. Power and Associates. “However, as manufacturers add new features and technologies to satisfy customer demand and new legislation, they face the potential for introducing new problems.”

The 2011 Vehicle Dependability Study is based on responses from more than 43,700 original owners of 2008 model-year vehicles after three years of ownership. The study was fielded between October and December 2010.

Photo: http://www.lincoln.com/cars/mkz/

by Luigi Fraschini