New-Car Quality Hits Speed Bump

After four years of steady improvement, new-vehicle quality leveled off within the past year as car companies continued to battle problems with both new and old technology, according to an annual survey of U.S. car buyers by research firm J.D. Power.
 The majority of brands performed worse in this year's survey results, dragged down by consumer complaints of paint imperfections, check-engine lights and brake and suspension noises, J.D. Power found.
 Owners reported progress using multimedia displays and software—long a trouble spot for auto makers—but flagged other problems with driver-assistance features, a category that includes adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning systems, according to J.D. Power's 2019 Initial Quality Study, released Wednesday.
 “Auto makers continue to make progress in areas like infotainment that attract a lot of consumer attention,” said Dave Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power. But mechanical and fit-and finish problems, along with more issues involving the driver-assist technologies, dinged many companies relative to last year's results, Mr. Sargent said.
 The closely watched survey rates brands on the numbers of problems drivers report within the first 90 days of ownership on a newly purchased or leased vehicle.
 This year's average number of problems reported for the industry was 93 per 100 vehicles, unchanged from a year ago and down from 97 in 2017. Korean brands—Genesis, Kia and Hyundai—topped the initial quality rankings, widening their lead over rivals, J.D. Power found.
 “Hyundai Motor Group is way ahead of the rest of industry right now,” Mr. Sargent said. The survey also gave high marks to the American brands.
 Both Ford Motor Co. and its luxury marque Lincoln for the first time were included together in the top five brands, trailed by General Motors Co.'s Chevrolet in sixth place. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV's Dodge brand finished in eighth place, its highest in the history of the survey.
 This was a tougher year for the European car makers, with all 10 brands finishing below average as owners reported more problems using the multimedia system and other electronics. Drivers of Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and BMW cars all reported more problems on average in 2019 than they did last year.
 The Porsche 911 was one standout, notching the highest score of any model, with owners reporting 58 defects per 100 vehicles.
 The Japanese car makers got mixed reviews. Nissan Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. finished in the Top 10, as did Toyota's premium Lexus brand. Mazda and Honda were slightly below the industry average, while Acura, Subaru and Mitsubishi ranked closer to the bottom.
 Problems using the multimedia system continue to be a leading source of complaints from new owners, but auto makers did show improvement in 2019 with drivers reporting fewer issues using voice-recognition software and Bluetooth connectivity.
 New systems designed to make driving safer are a growing area of concern. For a fourth year in a row, new owners reported problems using driver-assistance features—technology that is becoming increasingly widespread and complex on new models hitting showrooms.

Number of problems per 100 vehicles

Annual industry average

2019 ranking by brand
Source: J.D. Power


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