Seeking Dependability?

In a boyfriend, dependability seems like a boring characteristic, but in an automobile it is among the most desired.  For this reason car companies all over the world strive to score high on the J.D. Power and Associates' Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS), the industry's benchmark in this sought-after area.  A month ago the Korean brands, especially Hyundai, were crowing about their success in another important J.D. Power and Associates survey, the Initial Quality Study, but the recently released VDS report shows that the Koreans still have a long way to go to achieve class-leading dependability.  The surprise in this year's VDS was the major progress being made by American manufacturers.

In this year's study, the "Big Three" domestic manufacturers all recorded improvements over their results in 2003:  Buick, Lincoln and Cadillac ranked two, four and five in the brand-by-brand results, respectively.  Lexus topped the VDS list, while Nissan's Infiniti luxury brand was third. General Motors was the only domestic carmaker ranking above the industry average of 269 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100), but Ford Motor Company and DaimlerChrysler made significant headway, improving 12 (Ford) and nine (DaimlerChrysler) PP100.

"The domestics are putting their money where their mouths are in terms of consistent long-term quality improvement," says Joe Ivers, partner and executive director of quality/customer satisfaction at J.D. Power and Associates. "However, while the domestics continue to outpace the Europeans in long-term quality, the Japanese continue to dominate."

Mercury (at 224 PP100), Chevrolet (262), GMC (262), and Saturn (267) were American nameplates that ranked above industry average in dependability.  The most-improved domestic nameplates included Ford (improving 19 PP100), Lincoln (18), Mercury (16), Dodge (14), Cadillac (13), Plymouth (13), Chevrolet (10) and Chrysler (10).  At the bottom of the VDS list as the least-dependable vehicles were Land Rover (472 PP100), Kia (432), Daewoo (411), Isuzu (393), and Volkswagen (386).  The most improved brands over their 2003 results were Kia (77 PP100 improvement), Suzuki (38) and Audi (23), although all three were below the industry average.

When it comes to individual models, Toyota and its Lexus sister brand rule the roost in dependability.  Toyota Corolla, Toyota Avalon, Toyota MR2 Spyder, Lexus ES 300 and Lexus LS 430 each topped their individual car segments, while the Toyota 4Runner and Lexus RX 300 topped their SUV categories.  In high-sales segments, Honda Odyssey was the dependability champ among minivans, Honda CR-V in small SUVs, Ford F-150 in full-size pickups and Chevrolet Tahoe in the large SUV class.  

The Vehicle Dependability Study measures problem symptoms of three-year-old vehicles, primarily in categories representing malfunctions; noise, vibration and harshness; driveability; dependability; and safety. The VDS is one of three J.D. Power and Associates quality metrics, along with the Initial Quality Study (IQS), which measures quality after 90 days of ownership, and the Automotive, Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, which measures customer perceptions on the design, content, layout and performance of their new vehicles.

Tom Ripley views the automotive scene and the human condition from his home in Villeperce, France.