Posted by: David Welch on June 17, 2010
You can’t hide from quality problems. Witness the results of the Initial Quality Study released today by J.D. Power. Toyota’s sudden-acceleration crisis—which forced the once-heralded carmaker to recall more than 8 million vehicles over the past year—resulted in its worst-ever performance in the survey. Toyota dropped from sixth place last year to 21st. Consumers complained in the survey about brake and floormat problems, which is what the recalls were mostly about. Last year, Toyota brand vehicles had 101 problems per 100 vehicles. This year, it rose to 117. No big surprise given the massive number of cars recalled.
What was more surprising is how poorly General Motors did. Cadillac tumbled from third place with 91 problems to a tie for 12th place with 111 problems. Chevrolet went from ninth to 12th, falling below the industry average. GMC went from 18th to 25th. Of GM’s four brands, only Buick improved. The survey tracks complaints during the first 90 days that a consumer owned the car. The problems can be anything from a mechanical breakdown to, say, too much wind noise to mundane things like the driver griping about the size of the cupholders.
What’s worrisome for GM is that the culprit happens to be the company’s newest models. Dave Sargent, J.D. Power’s vice president of global vehicle research, said new models are often weaker in quality than cars that have been on the market for a few years. Carmakers have time to find glitches and work them out. Sargent says GM can easily improve its quality performance by patching up new models like the Cadillac SRX and Chevrolet Camaro. But this is terrible news for a GM management team that is trying to convince buyers that the company is new, improved and doing things differently. Some of GM’s new models are selling well; the Cadillac SRX, Chevy Equinox SUV and Camaro in particular are red hot. What better way to wow those new owners than sell them cars that they think are cool, and which end up being problem-free. The fact is that GM has been making quality strides. But until the company can follow rival Ford, which finished fifth and ahead of all other mass-market brands, GM will have something to prove instead of something to boast.
J.D. Power pointed out that as a group, Detroit’s Big Three carmakers did better than the foreign brands for the first time in the survey’s 24-year history. That is largely due to the fact that Ford made big gains and Toyota tumbled so far. The disappointing results at GM and Chrysler, whose Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram brands all scored below the industry average—say that much more work needs to be done before consumers will view American cars as equal or better than the imported brands.