Westlake Village, CA — As the U.S. automotive industry continues to recover, vehicle manufacturers post the strongest improvement in initial quality since 2009 and are producing higher-quality vehicles than ever before, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2012 U.S. Initial Quality Study(SM) (IQS) released today.

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Overall initial quality for the industry improves by 5 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) to average 102 PP100 in 2012—an improvement of 5 percent from 2011.  There are year-over-year gains in most areas of initial quality, with one notable exception—audio, entertainment, and navigation problems have increased by 8 percent from 2011. This continues a recent trend, as problems in this category have increased by 45 percent since 2006 while other categories have improved by 24 percent, on average.

As manufacturers introduce increasingly sophisticated multimedia systems designed to enhance the ownership experience, owners more frequently cite these systems as a source of quality problems. For the first time in the 26-year history of the study, owners report more problems related to audio, entertainment, and navigation systems than in any other vehicle area.  This is driven in part by a rapid increase in the fitment of new technology, such as voice recognition on mainstream models.

“Until recently, this type of sophisticated technology was found primarily on high-end models” said David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power and Associates. “However, over the past few years it has rapidly found its way into the automotive mainstream. For example, in 2012, more than 80 percent of owners indicate that their new vehicle has some form of hands-free technology.”

Specifically, the number of owner-reported problems with factory-installed hands-free communication devices has increased 137 percent during the past four years. In fact, hands-free devices not recognizing commands has become the most-often-reported problem in the industry.

“As smartphones become ubiquitous in the lives of consumers and are ever-more sophisticated, expectations about the complementary technologies being offered in new models will only get higher,” said Sargent. “Automakers and suppliers are working hard to meet those expectations with systems intended to make the driving experience safer, more convenient and more entertaining. However, the most innovative technology in the world will quickly create dissatisfaction if owners can’t get it to work.”

Other key findings from the study include:

  • Of the 34 brands ranked in the 2012 IQS, 26 have improved from 2011, five have declined, one scores the same as in 2011 and two were not included in the 2011 study.
  • Of the 185 models ranked in both the 2012 and 2011 IQS, 65 percent have improved.
  • The average quality of all-new or redesigned models improves 12 percent compared with 2011, with eleven all-new or redesigned models performing better than their segment average.

The Initial Quality Study, now in its 26th year, serves as the industry benchmark for new-vehicle quality measured at 90 days of ownership. The study is used extensively by manufacturers worldwide to help them design and build better models and by consumers to help them in their vehicle purchase decisions. Initial quality has been shown throughout the years to be an excellent initial indicator of long-term durability, which directly impacts consumer purchase decisions. The study captures problems experienced by owners in two distinct categories: design-related problems and defects and malfunctions. Full results are on the next page.