Is Consumer Reports the “Best or the Worst” Source of New Vehicle Ratings?

consumer reportsSituation:  Every year the April issue of Consumer Reports comes out with “The Best and Worst of  New Cars “— this year for the 2013 Models. This aging & non-profit testing and research organization does “tests” on dozens and dozens of new cars — there are 8 printed pages of ratings in the April 13th issue.

Consumed by Iconic Rating System? So just how important or “reliable” are these vehicle ratings and reports?  Are we in the automotive industry, the general public and even the seemingly independent editors of Consumer Reports themselves somehow  are “consumed” with these reports and do they really matter and if so, how can anyone prove it?

Why the Best and the Worst?   In case, they, you, me and the consuming buyers of new and pre-owned vehicles haven’t noticed, and in spite of almost paranoid recall process being impressed by Ray LaHood and NHTSA, the quality, reliability and performance of all domestic and foreign made vehicles are so good that there is  no “worst.”  It is almost as if the Consumer Reports editors and testers are “consumed” with almost discrediting the manufacturers and the great vehicles they are designing, producing and delivering.  There  are no “Worst Vehicles” any more even if by either some kind of testing or anecdotal assessment some vehicles might be deemed “better” than other — so it  is really “BEST & BETTER.”

Can Vehicles be rated like wine:  To assign a rating number to a brand new vehicle that has not been on the road long enough to really be “tested” by  the consuming and using owner-operators over an extended period of time is at best some kind of  human judgment and at “worst”  arbitrary, with some predictive speculation.

The Survey Says What?   First off, it is always impressive how any research organization whether it is J D Power and Associates, Polk, Gartner, or Consumer Reports is able to reliably gather survey info from some almost mysterious group of consumers that are apparently surveyed regularly by such market research organizations. But when Consumer Reports seeks to measure the “Predicted Reliability” and “Customer Satisfaction” through such surveys, whatever they “get” is about the past performance of vehicles on the road not new ones.  Further it seems almost a projected guess to suggest that anyone can predict the reliability of any vehicle.  Note the millions of vehicles that have been recalled in 2012 because of “reliability issues and problems.”

Red Bars with a “Checked” Boxes;  Bar graphics are always impactful particularly with a subscriber base that does not like to read a lot of content,  so if you are going rate the performance of any product or service including trade media, the use of color, particularly red is very visual and not always an accurate reflection of what the “consuming” public should be gaining from market research

Being “Mooned” by Full and Half- Filled Symbols – Not only are these little circled “moons” hard to read, they  probably do not catch  the attention of readers nor do they  portray the “survey” information in any meaning full way.

Repetitious High and Lows Commentary:  As one seeks to sort out some kind of assessment that can be carried into the showroom or used in an Internet search for the next car, one finds the same almost innocuous and sometime judgmental commentary that you find in the buff books listed in the “Highs & Lows” commentary in the right hand column. These entries use the same terms over and over like “Ride, Noise, Handling and Comfort”—like the editors are struggling to put something in these boxes that really describes what was experienced  in a relatively short testing period but new words cannot express a laborious process of  describing what 281 vehicles did in the lab.

Testing 281 Vehicles Seems Overwhelming:  First of all, to get your hands on that many vehicles in a very short period of time, seems daunting even for the experienced engineering teams at Consumer Reports.   Most new car models come out as early as March every year — so if there are roughly 240 work days a year, this means that Consumer Report has to “test” one vehicle model every day for last year and then push to get the test results and the editorial done for publishing in the April issue by no later than February 15th this year.

Who Makes the Best Cars?  This is one of “Sell Lines” on the front page of the April issue of America’s seemingly credible vehicle and product rating magazine.  The answer to the question –which is only partially answered on page 15 is – the OEMs who made the 281 vehicles that Consumer Reports dramatically reviewed. – And then CR had to package the results with flare and impact in order to sell many copies on the newsstand and boost subscriptions as much as possible – and that is the worst part.

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One Response to Is Consumer Reports the “Best or the Worst” Source of New Vehicle Ratings?

  1. jlesage says:

    Great read, Chuck!

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