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Autofield Blog

Building Them Like They Used To?


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20. February 2014

“They don’t make ‘em like they used to” is often said in the context of how things were better back in the day. Another interpretation, especially when talking about new cars, is somewhat opposite, as in cars are so much better now than they once were than back in the day.

Looking at the recently released J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study, it seems as though they do make ‘em like they used to—and in the second sense of that statement, because J.D. Power analysts determined that the average number of problems has increased, and this is the first time since 1998 that this has happened.

In 2013, there was an average of 126 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100). For the 2014 study, which is based on the past 12 months’ experience that original owners have had with their model year 2011 cars, the number is 133 PP100, a 6% increase in problems.

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Apparently, a large contributor to the problems reported relate to powertrain: engine and transmission problems have grown, with four-cylinder engines apparently being more problem-prone than their larger brethren.

Presumably, this has something to do with OEMs trying to make their smaller engines perform in a way more analogous to larger engines—as well as the expectations of owners that the smaller engines will perform like the larger engines they’re used to.

Realize that this is all based on reports from owners, so it is subjective as to what a problem is or isn’t.

But clearly, with the increase in PP100, things are not going in the right direction.

Lexus has a three-peat in its having the best rankings, this year, by far the best rankings.

Realize that a lower number is better.

The industry average is 133 PP100.

Lexus scores 68 PP100.

Mercedes comes in second at 104 PP100.

To get a sense of the magnitude of the delta between first and second place, take the difference between Lexus and Mercedes, 36, and add it to the Mercedes number, which goes to 140. That number is below industry average. It is also the number that Ford scores.

General Motors is doing a good job, with all of its brands scoring above or at average (Cadillac: 107, Buick: 112; Chevrolet: 132; GMC: 133).

Another interesting aspect is that while Lincoln is comparing its products to those of Lexus (admittedly, they have new product and realize what is being scored here is model year 2011) and while Ford is comparing itself to Toyota and Honda, Lincoln actually ties Toyota and Honda at 114 PP100, and as we have seen, not only is Lexus well ahead of the curve, Ford is slightly behind it.

And if there is any question of the auto industry being one where the love of the product can transcend PP100, here is proof that it does: Mini scored at the very bottom of the nameplate ranking at 185 PP100, yet in the “Compact Sporty Car” category, the Mini Cooper stood alone, with no other cars even in the ranking.

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