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Yawn. Detroit gets closer in J.D. Power's quality study.

Posted by: David Welch on June 22, 2009

Here’s a storyline I have heard before. The Big Three are narrowing the gap on quality. J.D. Power and Associates have just released their annual Initial Quality Study, which measures problem per 100 cars in the first 90 days of ownership. Detroit’s carmakers reduced problems by 10%. Their foreign foes reduced problems by just 8%. When measuring problems per 100 cars sold, no one will notice the difference.

And here’s the frustrating part. Ford, General Motors and Chrysler have been improving quality for years. But they rarely beat Honda or Toyota in a brand-wide measure. And they don’t beat them in model-by-model comparisons often enough. Every year, they inch closer. But that doesn’t send the loyal Toyota Camry or Honda Accord owner to a Chevrolet dealer.

The top 10 went like this. Lexus was number one with just 84 problems per 100 vehicles and Porsche was No. 2 with 90 problems per 100. Cadillac was third with 91 problems. From there it went:

Hyundai: 95
Honda: 99
Mercedes-Benz: 101
Toyota: 101
Ford: 102
Chevrolet: 103
Suzuki: 103
Infiniti: 106
Mercury: 106

The industry average was 108 problems per 100 cars. Every brand not mentioned above did worse. That means all of the new Chrysler’s brands are below average. GM, for its part, did quite well. Cadillac was third among 37 brands. Chevrolet ranked ninth, but was close enough to Ford and Toyota that difference is just about meaningless. Mini finished last.

The problem for Detroit is that those overall numbers don’t mean so much. If car buyers compare models, they would find that 10 of Toyota’s cars rank in the top their in their segment, more than any carmaker. Ford had three models getting awards in their vehicle segments while GM had two and Chrysler had one, the slow-selling PT Cruiser.

That’s the difference in quality that consumers will see. They will shop for a mid-sized luxury car, for example, and see that the Lexus IS was best-in-class for quality. The Infiniti G-series and Cadillac CTS tied for second, but the Lexus won. To win buyers, that Cadillac needs to leap frog the Lexus. And the American carmakers need to start recording wins, not narrow defeats.

Reader Comments

Gary Krueger

June 22, 2009 7:45 PM

Most owners keep their cars longer than 90 days. Detroit is way behind on long term reliability. Honda and Toyota cars run reliability with little maintenance cost well beyond 100,000 miles. All Detroit cars I have owned were maintenance money pits by 75,000 miles.

Dan Zee

June 22, 2009 7:59 PM

Is this correct? An average of 108 problems per 100 cards in the first 90 days? So some cars have two or more problems off the assembly line? This is awful quality for all manufacturers! I'd like to know what the most common problem is.


June 22, 2009 8:09 PM

Take the J.D. Power's ratings with a grain of salt. They are the same group that rates American Express highest for customer satisfaction. Well, I'm not a happy AMX customer! Time will tell how well these vehicles really hold up, not the initial quality ratings.


June 22, 2009 8:10 PM

The key word here is "initial". Can't these folks understand that this survey means little. Take a survey after 100,000 miles and American cars will sink to the bottom where they will stay until Detroit finally gets it that consumers want products that are excellent in quality and last. Sacrificing excellence for profit has opened the doors for foreign products. They will not get me and millions of others back until quality becomes the primary focus of American industry.

Tom Bonarrigo

June 22, 2009 8:22 PM

It's articles like this that continue to paint the American car industry as second rate when compared to "almighty Toyota". If all of the pundits who never worked in the Automobile business but just sit at keyboards and dictate what consumers should buy, maybe our car industry wouldn't be on the verge of collapse. Things have changed and if people would simply shop and drive American they would see the quality that is out there....


June 22, 2009 8:23 PM

Initial quality? The ultimate bogus award.

Ford - 37K miles and a $400 bill for a $2 gasket replacement. At 60K, a $1200 repair for crankshaft bearings. (and yes, it was independently confirmed by 3 mechanics)

Honda - 170K miles and ah, let me see... ummm... nope, no major repairs!

When the these losers can build a car that has demonstrated LONG TERM reliability (and by implication quality) like a Honda or Toyota, AND will stand behind there product as I've experienced with Honda, I'll consider buying it. Till then, have a long and enjoyable bankruptcy.


June 22, 2009 8:26 PM

Who cares. Fake bankruptcy. Why keep $70/hr labor, bankruptcy perfect time to replace with regular labor rate, of say $20/hr. Lots of people need the work. How is GM burning thru so much cash (billions) and not building cars. All money gone before gets out of BK, stupid. Please fold this firm, start a fresh car maker.


June 22, 2009 8:27 PM

That's exactly right. When I spend my hard earned money, I'm not looking for a car brand that keeps improving but continues to get beat by the competition. I'm looking for the brand that's already doing the best job.

That said, if you required heart surgery, would you choose the surgeon with the best survival rate or the surgeon whose survival rate was inferior but consistently improving. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

steve gorski

June 22, 2009 8:30 PM

I don't what the big deal about JD Power's is anyway. I worked at a Nissan Dealer and we paid the customers with a full tank of gas to bring in the survey blank. The salesman got to spin the wheel for cash $10 to $200. I wrote to JD Power's and they never wrote back.

June 22, 2009 8:49 PM

I always ignore JD Powers. This is an "initial" quality survey. Sure, one buys a new car, ANY new car, how are they going to feel about it for the first year? Ecstatic. Anyone is going to ignore even mild problems, especially if the manufacturer fixes them hassle-free. So the only car buyer returning a poor survey is the sap that gets a bad transmission, from a dealer of ill repute whose sales manager burned it out on a joy ride, and who refuses to fix it. With the brand damaging power of the BBB, and any Internet outlet, these stories are almost extinct.

Now that American cars are in the same ballpark in overall quality as Toyota, Toyota has a fanbase of Americans who have three generations of buyers in the same family. Erase that kind of loyalty? How?

If the Big Three do not pioneer the usable electric car, or make some great innovation, no quality story is going to erase the apathy that many Americans have developed towards US cars.

Finally, most brands have a US built car. Which furthers the response to the Big Three: So what? (Answers any marketing ploy they can come up with.)


June 22, 2009 8:54 PM

There are many factors when assessing brand satisfaction and a key factor is the quality of the dealer. We have an Audi A6 at the end of it's warranty period and the dealer has been great at fixing problems we had including a major brake job at about 20K miles. If the dealer had been a pain to work with, our ownership experience would have been much different.

Regarding this car's reliability, I will find out over the next few years as any repairs will come out of my pocket going forward.

David E. Connolly, Jr.

June 22, 2009 9:12 PM

It is about a lot more than "problems per 100 cars." I mean, what are you about? Do you look at your car, and say "It looks like a cheap, boxy, 2nd rate K-car clone, but it only has 99 problems per 100 cars," or do you look at your car, and feel really smart for buying it, because it looks great, in a cute sort of Japanese way, and that healthy little way it starts up every time, without fail, and the tiny bit of gas, and oil it burns, and the peace of mind you have, knowing that it is reliable, and always has been? I mean, that's the difference right there, isn't it? We just like virtually everything about the reliable, little Japanese cars we drive today, except that the price keeps going up, (and that tempts us to look at those German cars, but who wants the expensive maintenance headaches with those?) All of these thoughts make up a feeling we get, when we look at different cars, and so many years of Detroit making self destructing garbage has left a bad taste in American's mouths that may never go away, but definitely isn't going away any time soon.


June 22, 2009 9:19 PM

Yeah... "initial quality" is a red herring. Nobody buys a Toyota because they heard it won't fall apart in the first 90 days. It's about long term quality! Another sign the US auto industry doesn't get it.

Sam Siphandone

June 22, 2009 9:39 PM

I thought Hyundai is bad but somehow better than Honda or Toyota. Ummm... They should compare cars like 5 years, 10 years & 15 years of ownership...


June 22, 2009 9:40 PM

The declaration that American cars are narrowing the gap is somewhat misleading. While it is true, as a whole, they are making gains. The real numbers that matter to consumers is the individual cars in certain a particular class. For example, the top three classes of cars are: Truck, Mid-sized sedan, and SUV. Toyota dominates in these classes. Just because Americans can do cars that few people drive better -- isn't exactly the best accomplishment.

I tell all my friends to buy foreign still. And to use the power of competition to get a good price (ignore clever marketing). This is the best process to use when you are ready for a car:


June 22, 2009 10:47 PM

Exactly. I keep reading about the US manufacturer's quality being close or the same as their import competition, that achievement alone will not sell any more cars.

Interestingly, a best selling, aspirational brand doesn't make your list. Perhaps the popularity of BMW despite this, shows that there's as much emotion as balance in play when selecting a vehicle.

Jon Smiff

June 22, 2009 11:01 PM

I ask people, whats the difference between an '04 Saturn (wife's car)with 350K miles?

I can depend on the Toyota to start every time and not have to involve AAA on a trip.

Saturn; Re-Think American.....I did and will never buy an American brand again.


June 22, 2009 11:03 PM

Close but no cigars,
sure when u have screw people around since the 60's with Corvair,
70s' Vegas, late 70s the 5.7 hybrid Diesel/gas engine.
And the 4 cyl engines , my friend's mid 90s Pontiac Sunbird. He had more satisfaction from buying a 87 560sel, even though the sel is much older than the Sunbird.

I am sure the guy is only getting old.

And now the new GM & Cryslur is trying to say no dice/no more claims should u be a sucker that got injured in any of their tin box.
That will help selling their used cars even more easier too.

j boyle

June 22, 2009 11:45 PM

With the foreign manufacturers not paying $1400-1,500 for retiree healthcare they can put a few more dollars into a better car, a cheaper car and a few $ in profits. The legacy cost of building a middle class in the U.S. is a more than slight handicap. Thank you free trade.

j boyle

June 22, 2009 11:45 PM

With the foreign manufacturers not paying $1400-1,500 for retiree healthcare they can put a few more dollars into a better car, a cheaper car and a few $ in profits. The legacy cost of building a middle class in the U.S. is a more than slight handicap. Thank you free trade.


June 23, 2009 12:39 AM

Who cares about the JD Powers initial quality survey results? I certainly don't! I care about and spend my money on long term quality. When I hear US auto maker’s tout JD results, I understand it is because they didn’t score well on long term quality and are trying to confuse me with something else.


June 23, 2009 12:50 AM

If the Toyota Camry is among the top ten best cars, then all of today's cars are garbage. It's time to just walk or just restore a well constructed old car.


June 23, 2009 2:47 AM

Is quality the number 1 reason for consumers to choose our Japanese counterparts over our own? If so, then yes, we should take ownership of the quality problem and beat our Japanese counterparts in this area. If not, then we should try to be number 1 in what really matters to the consumers. My $.02


June 23, 2009 4:37 AM

The number of problems "in the first 90 days of ownership" is merely one measurement. What really matters to most buyers would be overall satisfaction after having owned/used their cars for long enough, say, 5-10 years plus resale values. Will Cadillac ever leap frog the Lexus? Yes,and pigs might fly.


June 23, 2009 5:06 AM

This study is pretty much useless as it only study the first 90 days, when most cars are trouble free and still within warranty.

Get real, how many people complaint about reliability problems within 90 days.

Come on, JD Edwards, if you want to do a study, please use common sense! Do not publish these types of useless data.


June 23, 2009 5:08 AM

Come on, JD Edwards. Please do not feed us these useless data.

How many people decide on a car based on 90 days reliability?

If you wish to do a study that is meaningul, then at least do a 1 to 5 years study.

You called this quality study? How about useless study!

Within 90 days, all cars are still within warranty anyway.

Ernest Brown

June 23, 2009 6:33 AM

Its a good thing they have conducted a study about this. This way they can further find ways to have better service for the cars that they manufacture.

Online Paid Surveys

munidas pereira

June 23, 2009 6:49 AM

Two points.
1. Most people keep their cars for longer than 90 days and hence a more accurate standard would be reliability over a 3 or 5 year span.
2. Human psychology. Persons who purchased cars made by the North American manufacturers and had problems and switched need convincing to switch back. This is where perhaps GM etc; should devote some of their marketing dollars to convince customers of the quality improvement.


June 23, 2009 8:48 AM

Take a look at the medium US income, subtract medium state and federal taxes, house payments, health care costs, food, energy, telephone, cable, internet services and debt service and tell me how anyone can afford a $20,000 - $30,000 car.

Take a look at when and why leasing autos became popular, I think you will find that the cost difference between purchases and leases drove leasing. Now the funding for leases has substantially diminished.

There is a vast chasm between earnings and the cost of living. This will have the largest effect on consumption and "green shoots". An economy that constantly reduces the income of its people while raising the cost of living is an economy bent on self destruction. Income can only be substitute with debt for so long; we have reached the point where debt is no longer a substitute for income.

The only way to move the economy forward is to rebalance the cost of living and earning. Incomes must rise and debt and the cost of living must fall. Otherwise there will be no increased consumption and the "green shoots" have no roots.


June 23, 2009 9:17 AM

I think the initial quality survey is useless. I want to know what the car or truck is going to be after 100,000 miles. I have owned a mix of Japanese and American cars, and every time the Japanese hold up better over the long haul. Every Ford seems to develop electrical problems at about 60K miles, etc. Total life-cycle needs to be compared, not 90 days.


June 23, 2009 10:26 AM

Mr. Welch--

Why don't you go drive the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry. Then go drive the Chevy Malibu. When you do that, I will expect a retraction from you on your statement about Chevy not getting Camry and Accord customers on their lots--because they are. If you are honest with yourself you will prefer the Malibu. The Chevy Malibu market share has increased tremendously, while both the Accord and the Camry have lost market share.

When you are on the lots, please check out the features that you get from each trim level. You will, find that the Chevy Malibu gives you more value than either the Honda Accord, and Toyota Camry at each trim level.

While you are researching, why not look to see who has the most segment leading mileage vehicles. That would be GM!!!

You may not believe in the GM product Renassaince, but the major increases in market share among the GM launches over the last few years speaks volumes to the resurgence of GM as industry leading in engineering, fit and finish, design approval, and mileage.

Writer's note: Welch here. I have written about Detroit's product improvements for years, especially at GM. I also penned the first story saying that the Malibu would change the game for GM in hte family sedan business.

George Guajardo

June 23, 2009 1:34 PM

I think what we missing here is the relationship between initial quality and long-term quality. I think the 90 day measure is a way of predicting long term quality. Essentially, if a car has crappy initial quality, how likely is it to get better over a longer time span?


June 23, 2009 3:00 PM

Def Tan
I have driven the Chevy Malibu and both its cousins the G6 and the Aura for vacation lasting 5 days or more over ther last 2 years. They are no where NEAR the quality of the Camry and especially the Accord The Malibu is not converting import buyers at a rate higher than 5% and there is no mention of what models these dolts are trading
The "GM product Renassaince" includes cars that have been recalled just like the older GMs have. There is no conclusive proof that GM is on par with Honda and Toyota and JD Powers studies are bogus ! Wait 10 years or 100k miles then we will see

Mike Spencer

June 23, 2009 3:10 PM

So Lexus reports 84% of their cars have a problem off the assembly line. That's quality. Great. I'm going to pay $50,000 for a car that has an 84% chance of a defect.

Toyota 101. Here's the brand that wrote the book on quality that the Americans can't match.

Ford 102, Chevrolet 103. Total American crap. So American crap equals less than a 1% difference to the brand that wrote the book. Those that listened to Dr. Demming. It never ceases to amaze me how we turn on our own.

I've driven domestic nearly my whole life. My experiences with Jaguar. Very friendly service and the most expensive I have ever experienced. Horrid. Nissan. An absolute money pit. One thing after the next went wrong and always a hassle over what was covered. VW, don't even get me started.

Heck, I drove a new Jeep Wrangler off the lot and kept it 4 years without a single problem. Not one. Well wait, I had to get new brake pads (once) and I changed the oil every 5 to 6,000 miles. I can't even imagine what the issues that get reported are. Yet, according to the study, Jeep is as fragile as an egg on wheels.

I just don't understand how Americans can be so critical of our brands. But that simply starts the debate down another path (content, number of workers, etc).

Yawn, another American product-hater article.


June 24, 2009 12:54 PM

Longer term counts more than 90 days. Subaru is not on the 90 day top quality list but in terms of long term on the road, what is the % vs others.I belive they're #1 for cars still on the road after 5 years. I think that if Detroit can hit the long term targets, they will be compared favorably to Honda and Toyota, who now set the quality pace in the public's eye.


June 24, 2009 2:04 PM

100% in agreement with Mike Spencer.

I own a 2006 Cadillac CTS. The care is great. No problems at all.

Overheard neighbor across the street telling a friend that he likes the look of the CTS, but couldn't buy it because of his concern about quality.

So what does he do? He buys an Audi. Take a look how far down the list you have to dig before you get to their sorry record.

He's probably now complaining about his taxes going up to support the unemployed. That's right, the people who don't have jobs because he's an idiot.

I've owned an Avalon. What a hunk of junk. That didn't stop my brother from buying one too. Most boring styling, most uninspired performance, and falling apart.

I don't know how much Toyota pays to get ratings like that, buy my personal experience is that their quality is not so great.


June 25, 2009 7:07 AM

Detroit will never catch them in a rigged system. All of the rating systems have been anti-Detroit for so long that the consumer (the person surveyed), thinks they are driving an inferior car and will rate it as such.

I got one of the stupid JD surveys a couple of years ago for a 2006 Silverado. It is a simple yes or no survey with little or no explaining. It is simply opinion and if a person believes the car is inferior going in, it will be judged inferior coming out.

I didn't send my survey back. I wounder how JD accounts for that. My guess is they probably assume I would have checked yes on everything.


July 7, 2009 9:34 PM

I had a Toyota truck that required multiple visits to the shop for repair to the tune of $800 on two visits. No thanks, I'm done with the foreign car hype!


July 20, 2010 1:31 AM

If domestic cars are improving, why not GM or FORD offer us longer warranties, but they won't, Just type in gm sucks or ford sucks on the search engine and you will get thousands of websites with real consumers complaining about their domestic cars, shame on you J.D. power for trying to fool consumers.

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