2012 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study: Industry Hits All-Time High

June 20, 2012
The J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, a touchstone for the industry's current successes and failures in new-car design and production, shows that the industry has reached an all-time high in overall quality with its 2012 model year, improving five percent overall, presenting fewer defects and problems than ever.

Heavily influential, the report contains no real surprises this year, apart from the overall improvement, though Honda stands out for launching two new vehicles without the typical attendant rise in initial quality issues. This year, no one carmaker or brand proved especially dominant, with no more than three class awards going to any one brand.

In-car technology is perhaps the biggest story of 2012, playing a larger role than ever in the overall results, not due to problems, but due to its widely-expanded availability. With more technology in more cars, more owners are reporting problems.

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J.D. Power's definition of quality used for the study explains what is being measured: the avoidance of defects or malfunctions, coupled with the avoidance of design problems, and overall product appeal--the emotional side of the customer's satisfaction with car's look, feel, and behavior. The study evaluates the problems owners find with new vehicles over the first 90 days of ownership.

2012 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study

2012 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study

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Japan Holds Strong, America Improves But Lags Behind

Looking at the overall results by brand region, a few patterns emerge; among the top five, two are European, two Japanese, and one is American. Of the top ten, Japan holds the most spots, with Lexus, Honda, Acura, Infiniti, and Toyota taking half the field. Mazda finished the year in 11th.

American brands are a mixed bag. Cadillac tops the nation's quality, at fourth place overall, but you have to step all the way down to 12th to find the next U.S. brand, GMC, with 99 PP100, just edging out 14th-place Ram Trucks, also scoring 99 PP100. Chevrolet trails closely at 100 PP100 in 15th place, beating the industry average by two points. Next comes Buick in 17th at 106 PP100, then Lincoln at 20th, Jeep in 23rd, Chrysler in 25th, Ford in 27th, and finally Dodge in 29th.

As for Europe, the results are even more widely-spread than American brands. The top European brand, Jaguar, is also the most improved for the year, rising to second place with just 75 PP100, but Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW are the only others in the top 10--or the top 15. Audi is next in 16th, then Volvo in 20th. Land Rover, Volkswagen, MINI, Fiat and Smart make up all but two of the last-place positions in the industry, with Volkswagen and MINI the lowest-scoring manufacturers with more than one model on sale.

The Industry's All-Time Best Initial Quality

The overall industry average has improved from 107 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) to 102 PP100--this is the highest initial quality level ever measured by J.D. Power, and it shows a rate of improvement that's at its highest since 2009. Comparing to the results of a decade ago, nearly every brand has made significant improvements, with an overall increase in quality of about 15 percent, while the spread from the best in the industry to the worst has narrowed.

A total of 26 brands have improved, while just five have declined, with one holding steady and two added (Fiat and Smart) for 2012.

Twenty-one model awards span 14 brands this year, with the most wins for a single brand at three, down from 7 for the most-awarded brand last year.

Lexus holds steady at 73 PP100, at the top of the industry, taking the win for the second year running. Jaguar is the most improved brand in the industry, reaching second place with 75 PP100, followed by Porsche at 75 PP100, Cadillac at 80 PP100, and Honda at 83 PP100.

2012 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study

2012 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study

Enlarge Photo
Cadillac's gains this year came in large part from improvements to the SRX's powertrain and features. Honda's rate of improvement has slowed, but still gains against last year. The new Civic and new CRV were notable for not causing small increases in problems typical of new model launches.

BMW moves into the top 10 on a strong improvement, marked largely by maturation in design and functionality of its various high-tech systems. Past BMW scores have seen negative impact from some of its cutting-edge features, a hazard of leading development and introduction of new in-car technologies.

Ram trucks is above the industry average of 102 PP100 at 99 PP100. Chevrolet is above the mean, too, thanks largely to gains in the Cruze and Equinox, though many Chevy models have showed gains.

Below the industry average, there are still gains, particularly Jeep thanks to the Grand Cherokee, which suffered from typical launch-year issues last year. Chrysler fell back due in part to the launch of the 300. Land Rover and Dodge have improved, but remain near the bottom of the industry.

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