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'A wide range of quality problems': J.D. Power reports new vehicles are more problematic

More and more people seem to be having problems with their vehicles.

J.D. Power's widely respected 2023 U.S. Initial Quality Study (IQS), released Thursday, showed that industry problems with driving didn't change overall, but quality declined in all other categories, primarily features, controls and displays, followed by infotainment.

“The automotive industry is facing a wide range of quality problems, a phenomenon not seen in the 37-year history of the IQS,” Frank Hanley, senior director of auto benchmarking at J.D. Power, said in a news release. "The industry is at a major crossroad and the path each manufacturer chooses is paramount for its future.”

General Motors received the most awards for its individual models with seven, while Hyundai won five and Toyota Motor Corp. won four. Meanwhile, Chevrolet and Kia tied with the most vehicle segment awards with four. Ford and Lincoln brands, overall, did not fare as well.

Results from these studies are often tied to executive performance bonuses because they objectively assess the industry.

Semiconductor joint venture: Stellantis, iPhone maker Foxconn team up to build semiconductors for auto industry

How does the Initial Quality Study work?

The study measures problems per 100 vehicles. So, for example, Dodge ranked as the top brand with 140 customer-reported problems per vehicle overall while Buick ranked third with 162 problems.

Vehicles have seen a rise, overall, of 30 problems per 100 vehicles over the past two years. Technology plays a role but it's just one factor.

The newer the vehicle, the more hassles and headaches reported by customers, the study showed.

"Today’s new vehicles are more complex ‒ offering new and exciting technology ‒ but not always satisfying owners,” Hanley said in the release.

GM ranked higher than Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Land Rover in certain categories. Meanwhile, the Ram 1500 won the coveted top ranking for the light duty pickup truck. In midsize pickups, Ford Ranger and Jeep Gladiator tied for best in the segment, with Ford Maverick rounding out the top three, the study showed.

Results are based on responses received from 93,380 people who purchased or leased new 2023 model-year vehicles who were surveyed early in their ownership period. The 223-question survey taken February through May of this year asked about infotainment, features, controls and displays; exterior; driving assistance; interior; powertrain; seats, driving experience and climate. The study is designed to help automakers identify issues and improve.

Overall, Stellantis held the top three best brand rankings with Dodge, Ram and Alfa Romeo. GM brands Buick, Chevrolet and GMC rounded out the top six. While Lexus scored well, Toyota found itself below average and ranked just above Ford.

The J.D. Power 2023 U.S. Initial Quality Study brand ranking shows three Stellantis brands and three General Motors brands at the top, while Ford ranks below average overall.
The J.D. Power 2023 U.S. Initial Quality Study brand ranking shows three Stellantis brands and three General Motors brands at the top, while Ford ranks below average overall.

These are the winning categories, listed in order of ranking:

Best vehicle brands, mass market

  • Dodge

  • Ram

  • Buick

Best vehicle brands, premium

  • Alfa Romeo

  • Porsche

  • Cadillac

Best cars

  • Overall: Nissan Maxima

  • Small: Kia Rio

  • Small premium: Audi A3, Mercedes-Benz CLA, BMW 2 Series

  • Compact premium: Lexus IS, Cadillac CT4, BMW 4 Series

  • Compact sporty: MINI Cooper

  • Large premium: MBW 8 Series

  • Midsize: Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Malibu

  • Midsize premium: Kia Stinger, Cadillac CT5, Lexus ES

  • Midsize sporty: Chevrolet Camaro

  • Premium sporty: Chevrolet Corvette, Porsche 911, Porsche 718

  • Upper Midsize premium: Genesis G80, Mercedes Benz E-Class, Audi A6/BMW 5 Series (tie)

2023 Nissan Maxima.
2023 Nissan Maxima.

Best SUVs

  • Small: Buick Encore GX, Kia Soul, Ford Bronco Sport

  • Small premium: Audi C8, Lexus UX, Mercedes-Benz GLA

  • Compact: GMC Terrain, Jeep Wrangler, Subaru Forester

  • Compact premium: Alfa Romeo Stelvio, BMW X4, Cadillac XT4

  • Midsize: Nissan Murano, Chevrolet Blazer, Honda Passport

  • Midsize premium: Lexus GX, Lincoln Nautilus, Cadillac XT5

  • Upper Midsize: Toyota 4Runner, Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia

  • Upper Midsize premium: Cadillac XT6, BMW X6, BMW X5

  • Large SUV: Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon

  • Large premium: Cadillac Escalade, Mercedes-Benz GLS, Land Rover Range Rover

Best van, pickup

  • Minivan: Kia Carnival, Honda Odyssey

  • Midsize pickup: Ford Ranger/Jeep Gladiator (tie) and Ford Maverick

  • Large light duty pickup: Ram 1500, Nissan Titan, GMC Sierra

Why the increase in quality issues: Audio system problems, horns with bad sound, faulty cupholders.

Key findings

  • Door handles: "Opening a door was ... an aspect of a vehicle that had been examined, engineered and mastered. The basic touch point of door handles is now a percolating problem area as manufacturers attempt to redesign them (for aerodynamics and appearance). Owners are having issues with high-tech approaches to this basic function; seven of the 10 most problematic models in this area are battery electric vehicles (BEVs)," the study said.

  • Safety systems: More than three-fourths (80%) of owners say their new vehicle includes all four of the primary driver assistance features ‒ forward collision warning; lane keeping assistance; lane departure warning; and blind spot warning. And customers report problems with all these features.

  • Smartphone charging: A wireless charging pad not working properly is a common problem. Users find the location inconvenient, charging erratic and sometimes overheating cell phones. “This is the area where manufacturers really have the opportunity to delight customers with this convenience, but instead are creating a problem for them,” Hanley said.

Worth noting

  • Most improved brands: Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Ram. All Stellantis.

  • Sample size too small to officially rank: Tesla, Polestar, Lucid Motors, Rivian Motors. They do not grant J.D. Power permission to survey its owners in states where authorization is required.

  • The 2023 Ford Super Duty, Ford Escape and Lincoln Corsair missed the study window.

Best auto plants based on fewest defects, malfunctions in vehicles built

  • Top overall: Toyota Tahara in Japan Plant (Lexus IS, LS, NK)

  • North/South America: GM San Luis Potosi in Mexico (Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain), BMW Spartanburg, SC (BMW X3, X4), Toyota Cambridge, Ontario, South in Canada (Lexus RX), Toyota in Georgetown, Kentucky, Plant 1 (Toyota Camry), Toyota in Georgetown, Kentucky, Plant 3 (Lexus ES), GM Ramos Arizpa in Mexico (Chevrolet Blazer, Equinox)

  • Asia Pacific: Hyundai in South Korea (Kia Seltos, Soul) and Toyota in Japan (Toyota RAV4, Venza) tied.

  • Europe: BMW in Netherlands, Austria and United Kingdom (MINI Cooper, Countryman, BMW 5 Series, Z4, MINI Clubman, Cooper)

Note: Factors including design flaws are not considered in the factory ranking. The study reviews 76 factories in the Americas, so competition is especially strong, Hanley said. Additional plant rankings were unavailable, he said.

Big takeaways

Study findings worthy of attention, according to Hanley, include:

  • Toyota is battling customer issues with its infotainment system, specifically the radio. Users are required to create a personal profile to use the system and it's not going smoothly, customers say.

  • GM is executing on its "push for quality" and they're obviously very committed. When they see problems in the factory, they react immediately rather than wait for a redesign.

  • Electric vehicles, including the Ford F-150 Lightning, are creating unique challenges for customers. Issues ranging from using the app to find a working battery charging station to ease of opening and closing the charging doors on the vehicle have not been without problems.

  • Screens in vehicles are blacking out and OTA (over the air) updates aren't installing properly, so customers can't use their radios. "People are saying things like, 'I just want to listen to the radio.' All systems are becoming so complex."

Ford's reaction to grim findings

Both Ford and Lincoln brand rankings for the number of customer problems in the first months of ownership deteriorated. Compared with 2022, Ford fell from 10th to 23rd and Lincoln from 10th to 28th.

In this Oct. 20, 2019 file photograph, the company logo shines off the grille of an unsold vehicle at a Ford dealership in Littleton, Colo.
In this Oct. 20, 2019 file photograph, the company logo shines off the grille of an unsold vehicle at a Ford dealership in Littleton, Colo.

In response to study findings, Ford spokeswoman Maria Buczkowski said:

  • "Both Ford and Lincoln are making significant progress on warranty items, issues that would drive customers to visit a dealership. That’s one of the main metrics we are focused on right now because those types of unexpected issues that drive customers to dealerships significantly impact customer loyalty."

  • "Where we need to improve is in 'non-traditional' warranty areas. These are areas that wouldn’t show up in warranty but are affecting the customer experience. An example could be app connectivity to the vehicle."

  • "Our internal metrics are showing progress on newer models, such as the 2023 Lincoln Corsair, Ford Escape and Ford Super Duty. These products were not included in this year’s study due to launch delays."

  • "A helpful way to benchmark against competitors is to look at how many of our products are in the top three of their segments. Four models were in the top three of their segments, including Ford Bronco Sport, Ford Maverick, Lincoln Nautilus and Ford Ranger."

She also said: "We’re committed to delivering quality experiences that customers expect and deserve from us, and we will not rest until we do just that. ... Customer feedback from sources like J.D. Power and our own internal measures are helping us pinpoint where to improve on the way to achieving best-in-class quality performance in high-volume segments and being among the leaders in all segments by 2025."

Stellantis does a victory lap

The latest study with Dodge at the top reflects four straight years of improvement, while Ram and Alfa Romeo reflect well on the Auburn Hills-based automaker, too.

“We are clearly finding our rhythm,” Mark Stewart, chief operating officer for Stellantis in North America, said in a news release. “While that bodes well for our team, more importantly, it’s a signal to our customers that we are aligned with their concerns and responding in real time. Expect the team to focus even more intently on delivering excellence in customer experience."

Contact Phoebe Wall Howard: 313-618-1034 or phoward@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @phoebesaid.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: J.D. Power: Many new cars feature exciting tech but are flawed

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