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.
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.
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.