Fuel economy, infotainment pushes US car quality down

The quality of new cars launched in the US in 2011 has declined considerably, according to a leading consumer study.

J.D. Power and Associates' annual Initial Quality Study, which measures problems with vehicles during the first 90 days of ownership, reported 107 problems for every 100 vehicles in 2011.

That's slightly down on 109 problems per 100 vehicles in 2010, but if new cars (those which are all-new or significantly redesigned) are isolated, the number of problems rises dramatically to 122, up from 111 in 2010.

It is the first time since 2007 that the quality of new vehicles hasn't improved, according to J.D. Power's historical studies.

Although the firm said that the decline is vehicle quality is evident in a number of areas, two primary causes emerged which are directly related to the trends which currently dominate the US - and international - automotive market.

Firstly, high fuel prices and the drive for efficiency has led automakers to try to squeeze as low a fuel burn as possible from the vehicles, tweaking engines and software in the pursuit of a low mile-per-gallon.

This has led to several incidents where the engine or transmission appears to be hesitating when accelerating or changing gear, which consumers have reported as a problem.

Secondly, the rapid introduction of multimedia technology and telematics has confused some users, with the report saying that some owners "report that their system is not intuitive and/or does not always function properly."

The finding will be concerning to brands, which have scrambled to add sophisticated systems to their vehicles (Ford announced this week a dramatic expansion of its SYNC AppLink system to ten new vehicles).

Overall problem rates for audio/entertainment/navigation systems in 2011 are 18 percent higher than in 2010 and 28 percent higher than in 2009, said J.D. Power.

The firm with the lowest number of problems per 100 vehicles was Lexus (73), while the highest was Dodge (137).

2011 Nameplate IQS Ranking
Problems per 100 vehicles

1. Lexus (73)
2. Honda (86)
3. Acura (89)
4. Mercedes-Benz (94)
5. Mazda (100)
6. Porsche (100)
7. Toyota (101)
8. Infiniti (102)
9. Cadillac (103)
10. GMC (104)

Industry average - 107

http://www.jdpower.com/

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