Dependability Falls 6% in 2011 MY: J.D. Power Study

The rise in complaints was led mostly by engine and transmission problems, specifically vehicles with four-cylinder engines, which now account for more than half the new-vehicle sales in the U.S. and could account for two-thirds of sales by the end of the decade. Power pointed to the increasing numbers of four-cylinder engines as leading to the decline as automakers are swapping out many V-6 engines for four-cylinders in order to meet CAFE′ requirements.

“There are more out there, but they are getting worse in terms of problems,” said Dave Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power. He told The Detroit News that drivers may be accustomed to a larger engine and therefore find the smaller one “different” and report that difference as a problem.

Even so, Sargent noted, “Automakers are continually looking for ways to improve fuel economy, which is a primary purchase motivator, particularly those [interested in] smaller vehicles. However, while striving to reduce fuel consumption, automakers must be careful not to compromise quality. Increases in such problems as engine hesitation, rough transmission shifts, and lack of power indicate that this is a continuing challenge.”

The Dependability Study, now in its 25th year, examines problems experienced during the past 12 months by original owners of 2011 model year vehicles. Overall dependability is determined by problems experienced per 100 vehicles (PP100), with a lower score reflecting higher quality.

Overall, Lexus ranked as the most dependable brand with just 68 problems per 100 vehicles, 36 fewer than the second-ranked brand, Mercedes-Benz. Cadillac, the third-best brand, took the top spot among domestics, with 107 problems per 100 vehicles. Buick (fifth, 112), Lincoln (tied for sixth, 114).  Chevrolet (13th, 132) and GMC (16th, 133) were other domestic brands that ranked at or above the industry average of 133 problems. Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC did not win any segment awards.

Problems that worsened compared to last year included excessive wind noise — a longstanding problem in the industry – and transmission fluid leaks, Sargent told The Detroit News. The rate of problems declined in areas like brakes, tire pressure monitoring, paint quality and water leaks.

According to the Detroit News, J.D. Power plans to update its study next year, in part because more problems are becoming software-related, meaning automakers can fix a potential problem without lengthy delay or high cost.

Mike Sheldrick, Senior Editor, Fleet Management Weekly

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