Still going

June 29, 2005
There's auto show season. Then there's auto survey season, as regular readers of know. We've seen a spate of reports in recent months, including Strategic Visions' Total Quality Survey, and the oft-quoted J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey, both of which look at how owners rate the quality of this year's products. Yet it's easy to argue that the most telling tale of all is told by the new Power Vehicle Dependability Study (you'll see more in the June 30 edition of Daily Edition). The VDS measures problems experienced by original owners of 3-year-old vehicles -- in this case, those purchased in 2002. The top performer is no surprise: Lexus. But what we didn't expect is a 12 percent rise in long-term vehicle quality. Short-term studies didn't come close to this number.

Nearly every maker gained ground, from Porsche to Hyundai. The latter manufacturer has come to realize that what really keeps buyers loyal is how their cars, minivans and SUVs hold up during the entire ownership cycle. Put another way, great design, big incentives, flashy ad campaigns don't really matter in the long-run. And even if you deliver a car that operates fine at the start, you'll still lose loyal customers if they have to start running to the showroom after a year or two.

And that is, we'd argue, one of the toughest challenges facing Detroit's Big Three. To regain market share, they desperately need to win over import owners. But how do they do that when today's Camry buyer might not have owned a "domestic" brand in decades. If the only Detroit iron you can recall was a cranky Chevy Citation that broke down regularly, but have had virtually no problems with your last three Toyota Camrys, what reason to return? The Big Three have also gained ground in long-term reliability, it's true, but unless they can convince import owners, they'll continue to lose ground.

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