Good for the Long Haul?

If you are looking for long-term dependability in your next car model, you can't do better than Lexus. According to the esteemed research firm J.D. Power and Associates, the Toyota-owned Japanese luxury brand ranks highest in long-term dependability for the eighth consecutive year in the firm's Vehicle Dependability Index (VDI) Study. In fact, all of the top five ranking nameplates in the study are Japanese brands, with Infiniti, Acura, Honda, and Toyota following Lexus, respectively.

The Vehicle Dependability Index Study, now in its 13th year, is a particularly telling piece of research, because it monitors the number and type of problems owners have with their four- to five-year-old vehicles, tracking problems toward the end of the typical new-car ownership period. The study covers 137 specific problem areas in nine categories and is based this year on survey responses from more than 30,000 original owners of 1998 model-year vehicles.

One of the most interesting findings of the study is the surprising reliability of the top-ranking four- to five-year-old vehicles. At 159 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100), the average four- to five-year-old Lexus has fewer problems than the average 1998 model-year vehicle did when it was new (176 PP100). Lexus owners report the smallest increase in problems of any nameplate, as measured at 90 days of ownership versus the four- to five-year mark.

"Lexus vehicles certainly benefit from their consistency in long-term dependability," said Brian Walters, director of product research at J.D. Power and Associates. "VDI measures vehicle problems at a critical stage, when many owners are considering replacing their vehicles. The perception of strong long-term dependability can translate into both high resale value and strong owner loyalty to the nameplate. More than one-half of new-vehicle buyers indicate that long-term durability is an important consideration when choosing which make of vehicle to purchase."

Because of those factors, it is not hard to see why Japanese nameplate cars are doing well in the American marketplace. Among the 15 nameplates scoring above industry average in the 2002 VDI, eight are Japanese brands (Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, Honda, Toyota, Subaru, Nissan, and Mazda); four are domestic (Buick, Cadillac, Lincoln, and Mercury); and three are European (Porsche, Jaguar, and BMW).

The industry as a whole registered improved vehicle dependability by 27 problems per 100 vehicles in 2002 -- a seven percent gain over 2001. Interestingly, industry-level new-vehicle quality, as measured by the J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study (IQS), has also shown an annual average improvement of just under seven percent over the past four years.