The 2012 Nissan Maxima. Image: Nissan
Feeling the sting from low quality scores in recent J.D. Power and Associates surveys, Nissan Motor Co. is amping up plans to do something to restore consumer confidence in its products. Specifically, Nissan will concentrate its efforts on two key areas: perceived quality and so-called “soft quality.”
Soft quality refers to customer perception of a product’s quality when they touch and feel it, and when they look at the fit and finish, and how easy and intuitive controls are to use.
Ford knows a thing or two about such things, having also scored poorly in recent J.D. Power studies over the complexity of SYNC and MyFord Touch interfaces. So does Toyota, which is doing everything it can to overcome its own recent quality problems.
What will Nissan do to improve its perceived quality and soft-quality? According to Automotive News (subscription required) via TheCarConnection, the short-term fix is a two-page insert in 2012 user manuals in its vehicles in the U.S. explaining how to cope with some of the problems that cropped up in the Power surveys. When customers take delivery, they’ll be required to sign an acknowledgement that they’ve read the insert.
Longer-term, Nissan says it wants a top three finish in the quality surveys (J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study and Vehicle Dependability Study and Consumer Reports) among all non-premium Nissan brands by 2013 and among all Infiniti brands during the same time frame. For 2011, Nissan had slipped to number 25 on the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, down from twelfth-place in 2010 and number 19 in 2009.
Tackling some of the weak spots means addressing issues such as difficult to use heating and air conditioning controls which require three buttons, rather than a dial that U.S. customers seem to prefer, and customer dissatisfaction with rear window wiper controls, tire pressure monitor, hands-free phone system, side mirrors and instrument panel clocks.
One of the biggest customer complaints had involved hesitation in the new seven-speed automatic transmission on some Infiniti models. Nissan has already corrected that issue on new models by changing the software.
As Nissan’s senior vice president in charge of global quality, Kazumasa Katoh, says: “We are accumulating the lessons learned, so what we experienced with defects and dissatisfaction, we are applying to new model development.”
All in all, making the customer happy is gaining a new importance at Nissan.