J.D. Power IQS 2017: Who Did Best, And What Does It Mean?

J.D. Power presented the results of its 31st annual Initial Quality Study (IQS) today at the Detroit-based Automotive Press Association. For the second year in a row domestic brands scored better than the imports, though Hyundai-Kia did best of all. Lexus, which used to have the top score, for the first time ranked below the average. Most other Japanese nameplates were also below average. Subaru and Mazda (both popular with TrueDelta’s members) ranked near the bottom. Should you now be most worried when buying a Japanese car? Not really, but to understand why you’ve got to understand what the IQS measures.

For the IQS J.D. Power surveys owners after they’ve had their cars for 90 days–hence the “initial” before quality. This isn’t a severe limitation, as there’s a strong correlation between initial quality scores and those on a separate survey covering the third year of ownership. (And beyond the third year? J.D. Power collects no data on how reliability cars are after the warranty ends.)

Anything car owners consider to be a problem counts as a problem. Even if the problem involves a third-party app or a non-compliant cell phone that won’t link up, it counts. Such problems probably aren’t a large percentage of the total. More of a potential methodological weakness: this approach opens the door wide for subjectivity, and car owners’ perceptions vary greatly. (Consumer Reports shares this weakness, compounding it by asking participants to only report problems they considered serious.)

If the above were the only limitations to the IQS, the rankings probably would still serve as a good indicator of reliability. But, as I’ve noted repeatedly in the past, IQS combines two very different types of problems: repairable mechanical issues and non-repaired design issues (especially ease of use). This wasn’t always the case, but as mechanical reliability improved J.D. Power redesigned the survey three times, each time broadening the scope of what counts as a problem. This year about two-thirds of all problems were the latter, non-repairable sort, with infotainment systems (including Bluetooth and voice recognition) the chief culprits.

Japanese cars continue to have the best mechanical reliability. But their infotainment systems too often are difficult to use. For example, Honda’s and Acura’s systems often include two separate screens, but too few physical knobs, while Lexus has been failing to make a mouse-like interface work. The systems in Hyundais and Kias tend to be much simpler. Meanwhile, Detroit-based manufacturers have improved their infotainment systems to the point that they’re often the easiest to use. Ford’s score improved a massive 16 points this year because it replaced the problematic MyFord Touch system with an all-new, much more easily operated SYNC 3. Even Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system, the worst in Detroit, has improved.

With the usability of infotainment systems finally improving (for most auto makers anyway), collision avoidance and autonomous driving systems could become a larger concern. Slightly more problems were reported with such systems this year than last year, partly because more cars are being purchased with such systems. It’s unclear what proportion of these problems are also a matter of usability. I almost always turn lane departure warning systems off because most are far more annoying than helpful.

Dave Sargent, who oversees the survey at J.D. Power, acknowledged that the domestics now outscore the imports due to their more usable infotainment systems rather than their mechanical reliability, though the latter has also improved. J.D. Power bases assembly plant rankings on mechanical reliability alone, Here Toyota plants won five of the nine awards. Three went to European Plants and one went to a domestic brand plant (for GM’s large pickups).

A final caveat: most brands score within a dozen points of the average. Only a few outliers score well below the average.

The IQS would be far more useful if it provided two separate sets of scores rather than combined scores. As is, it’s not possible to tell whether low scores are due to reliability or to usability. More often than not reported problems involve the latter. Luckily, it’s easier to avoid design issues than mechanical issues: just take thorough test drives before deciding which car to buy.

How many of the people who start the survey finish it?

One big change with the new car reliability survey process is we now save and track partial responses. I have wondered how many of these we’d end up with. How many people who start the survey wouldn’t finish it?

We now have an answer. At this point we have 233 partial responses. While this is 233 more than I’d like to have, it’s 0.9% of the total. In future quarters, with the new process more thoroughly debugged and refined, it should be even lower.

Car Reliability Stats–Now Covering Through March 31, 2017

We’ve updated our car reliability stats to cover through the end of March 2017, making our information nearly a year ahead of that available elsewhere. Some results that caught my eye…

While we have only a very small sample size of the new 2016-2017 Mazda CX-9, none of the 13 cars in the survey has needed a repair. This is quite good for an all-new model with a new engine.

Very small sample sizes of the Jaguar F-PACE and Volvo XC90 point hard in the other direction. The new Chrysler Pacifica minivan might have some first-year issues, but given a small sample size and a stat merely twice the picture here is less clear.

Thanks to an issue with its folding top, the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata required repairs a little more often than the average 2016 car.

FCA has dramatically improved the reliability of the Fiat-based Jeep Cherokee. While the first-year 2014 required 47 repair trips per 100 cars in the past year and the 2015 required 32, the 2016 required only four. Though a first-year car, and one made in Italy, the 2016 Jeep Renegade has required only about an average number of repairs (28 repair trips per 100 cars).

The 2016 Tesla Model S has required only about an average number of repairs during the past year. While this is based on a small sample size, it’s possible that Tesla had largely worked the bugs out before updating the car for 2016.5. The repair frequency for the updated 2016.5-2017 Model S (for which we also have a small sample size) is about three times the average. The Model X crossover continues to require about six times as many repairs as the average 2016 car.

The 2016 Toyota Tacoma has fallen into the red zone thanks to a common problem with some glue that holds the hood together. The truck might also be having more problems than the typical Toyota in other areas. A common problem with how the transmission was shifting was fixed with a software update, so it’s not reflected in our stat.

To view the stats for these and hundreds of other cars:

TrueDelta’s car reliability information

Note: the default stats are now by-generation, but the by-year repair frequencies remain available. Along with the repair odds, trends, the descriptions of all reported repairs, and more.

New Survey Form–Many Improvements

This morning we launched a new survey form that eliminates a big longstanding weakness of the site and adds some major features members have been asking for. We’ve wanted to do it for literally years, but other projects and crises kept getting in the way. So we’re very happy to finally have the new form out the door.

In the beginning, TrueDelta had only the Car Reliability Survey. Focused on gathering data for our car reliability statistics, this survey form asked only the questions we needed answers to for the stats, and it only asked about repairs up to a year old and since the member joined.

Many members wanted to enter and maintain a complete record for their car, since they first got it. They wanted to enter repairs over a year in the past, and from before they joined the site. Some wanted to enter scheduled maintenance as well as repairs. Some wanted to enter additional information, such as the name of the repair shop or costs itemized by repair and parts vs. labor.

At the time I could not figure out how to provide all of this additional functionality without making the regular survey form too much more confusing and complicated. It didn’t help that my programming skills were minimal. So instead of adding this functionality through the regular survey form, I created a second Repair History form focused on personal record keeping and without the questions we needed only for the purposes of our error checking and statistical analysis.

This simplified the tasks of creating the form and using it to maintain a car’s complete repair and maintenance record, but has been the source of much confusion. While we merged both sets of entries on the site’s car problems pages, we kept them separate in members’ personal records. People would look for records entered using one form under the menu for the other form, find nothing there, and think data had been lost. Or they’d enter a new repair using the Repair History form when this information needed to be entered through the Car Reliability Survey. (Each quarter I’ve checked for such entries and copied them over to the reliability table.) I’m sure many people were confused by the presence of both “Reliability” and “Repair History” menus in My Garage. Most of all, though, it was cumbersome to have to log the same repair twice (even if most of the work was done by clicking an “import into repair history” link) and the great majority of members probably didn’t even realize that the second form existed. So few people who would have liked to maintain a complete record were actually doing so.

This morning this mess I created a decade ago is finally gone, thanks to Gayla’s far superior programming skills and a lot of hard work. There is a new mess, a few thousand duplicate entries in the merged data table, but I’ll take care of these over the next few months. They will not affect the reliability stats. There are also a few loose ends to take care of, such as duplicate menus in My Garage, but like the duplicate entries these should be taken care of soon.

What this means: it’s now much easier and much less confusing to maintain a complete repair and maintenance record of your car on TrueDelta.

But wait, there’s more…

For quite some time members have been asking for the ability to edit past Car Reliability Survey entries. Providing this was much more complicated than it might seem, since to ensure the quality of our reliability stats I’d have to track and review all changes for errors. Well, the new system allows editing.

Likely of even greater benefit, the new form saves partial entries as drafts. If you run into a problem while filling out the survey, or find you don’t have all of the information you need, or simply run out of time, you no longer need to start from scratch later. Any pages of information previously entered will now be accessible as an incomplete “draft” response. If you end up with duplicate incomplete responses, these can be deleted.

Yes, “pages,” the plural. The number of questions that need to be answered for the Car Reliability Survey has not changed. But to enable the additional functionality (with additional optional fields) these questions are now spread over a larger number of shorter pages. Clicking from page to page is the only additional work with the new form. It’s a tradeoff we wrestled with for a very long time, but we think the advantages of the new form are well worth the additional clicking.

This is just the initial iteration. We’ll be making changes and improvements based on feedback from members. Give it a shot and let us know what you think!

Car Reliability Stats–Now Covering All of 2016

Q7 front angle mansion
We’ve updated our car reliability stats to cover through the end of 2016, making our information about eight months ahead of that available elsewhere. Some highlights…

The new 2017 Audi Q7 is doing very well for an all-new feature-packed crossover. The competing Volvo XC90, in contrast, has a higher repair frequency than any other 2016 we have a stat for except for the Tesla Model X, which is in a league of its own. We now have enough data on the Model X to confirm our initial estimate: a repair frequency about six times that of the average car.

The Tesla Model S has improved to the point it is about twice the average, which puts it in the ballpark of some competing upscale cars.

The second-generation Volt began as a 2016 model, and the first model year’s repair frequency has been worse than average. But the 2017’s has been very good.
Volt front quarter
The Fiat-based Jeeps, the 2015-2016 Renegade and the 2016 Cherokee, both required few repairs in the past year. If they can keep this up then perhaps Fiat-Chrysler is turning a corner. They badly need to.

New Honda designs tend to have issues at first, after which most improve. The new Civic and HR-V have improved. The new Pilot has not.

To view the stats for these and hundreds of other cars:

TrueDelta’s car reliability information

Note: the default stats are now by-generation, but the by-year repair frequencies remain available. Along with the repair odds, trends, the descriptions of all reported repairs, and more.

Has design at Toyota and Lexus turned a corner?

Akio Toyoda presents 2018 Camry
Judging from Toyota’s cars, design has been an afterthought at the world’s largest auto maker, something tacked onto whatever the engineers came up with. Even when the company decided to place more emphasis on design, this meant adding more extraneous details to a shape that was largely beyond the designers’ control. As a result, the cars appeared neither coherent nor attractive. Often they appeared odd. This tendency might have peaked with the current Prius.
Prius front quarter 1000
My father helped me cover the Detroit auto show (NAIAS) this year. He was especially impressed by Akio Toyoda’s presentation of the new 2018 Toyota Camry. And if the current Lexus LS looked like the new 2018, he might have bought it instead of the Tesla he’s now driving. We both thought that, with these two cars, Toyota’s and Lexus’s design had finally turned a corner. At the show both struck us as much more refined, integrated, and attractive than their predecessors.
LS front quarter close
But auto show presentations have a way of generated undue enthusiasm. Otherwise, what’s the point of giving them? Now that a month has passed, how well do the new designs hold up? Are they a big step forward for their brands?
Camry SE front quarter 380
In the case of Lexus, probably so. The new LS appears a little bulbous from some angles–the roof arcs quite high–but it goes well bound any previous LS in making a distinctive design statement, and making it well.
LS rear quarter
In the case of the Camry, I’m less sure. I’m seeing quite a bit of Honda Accord in the new car, with perhaps a dash of Acura TL.
Camry Hybrid rear quarter
In other words, aside from the overdone front end it’s a fairly well executed but unexciting design that once out of the road will blend in. It’s about where the 2007 Camry was in 2007: a big improvement over its predecessor, but not a car that many people will buy because they love how it looks.

That said, I do like the large windows, the practically positioned windshield, and how the base of the windshield lines up with the base of the side windows. The area around the front pillar has been designed very well. The rib along the upper body also works well. I’m less a fan of the character line through the rear pillar, which enables this optional two-tone treatment:
Camry two-tone
What are your reactions?

Impact of Chinese Auto Makers in the U.S.

Dunne speaking

Last week I attended a presentation by Michael Dunne on the impact Chinese auto makers will have in the U.S at the Detroit-based Automotive Press Assocation. A few years ago Dunne wrote American Wheels, Chinese Roads: The Story of General Motors in China, an excellent book on that topic. He has long advised auto makers on how to operate in China, and more recently in Indonesia, and really knows his stuff. I expected to learn quite a bit from his presentation, and did.

One thing I learned from the book that remains as true as ever: the Chinese government isn’t a monolith. Instead, there are powerful city governments that compete with one another and engage in a back-and-forth with the national government. Foreign auto makers are required to form 50-50 joint ventures with Chinese companies (a policy that Dunne agrees is terribly unfair, and one whose time has past). In nearly all cases foreign auto makers have partnered with Chinese companies controlled by a city government, not by the national government of China. General Motors and Volkswagen, for example, have both partnered with SAIC, and company owned and controlled by the city of Shanghai.

Dunne room

Auto makers could partner with a private Chinese company. The advantage of this would be greater speed and flexibility, as the government-owned companies tend to be bureaucratic and slow to make decisions. But government-owned companies can open doors (get permits approved, obtain contracts from other companies owned by the government, etc.) that private companies cannot. So there’s a trade-off.

China forced these joint ventures so that Chinese companies could acquire know-how and eventually strike out on their own. They are now pretty much ready to do the latter, so the need for the JVs has passed.

Chinese auto companies have even begun investing in U.S.-based facilities. Many already have operations here. Even without pressure from Trump they increasingly employ Americans.

This is especially the case with electric vehicles (EVs). Here events have taken an interesting turn. China has no oil, and doesn’t want to get involved in the Middle East the way the U.S. has. So the national government has decided that China will become not just a follower in EVs, but a technology and manufacturing leader. To accomplish this, they have not directed their auto companies to build EVs. Instead, in 2014 the government approached Chinese who have made billions with internet-based businesses and asked them to found EV companies. A few have. To develop these EVs, they’ve set up engineering facilities in California.

Chinese in US

Dunne very much expects these ventures to succeed. His overarching theme: the Chinese never give up. They’ve come a long way in the past two decades, and are just getting started. It’s already possible to buy two Chinese-made cars in the U.S., the Buick Envision crossover and the Volvo S60 Inscription sedan. Many more are on the way. Will they be reliable? As soon as we know, you’ll know.

New Reliability-By-Generation Pages

We know that the amount of information TrueDelta provides can be overwhelming. To make our reliability stats easier to grasp, we’ve changed the default pages to by generation rather than by model year. With fewer ratings on the page, we can use revised, larger faces and also include photos of the cars.

The by-year stats (with absolute repair frequencies rather than percent of the average) remain available, both through the menus and by clicking on a year-model link on a by-generation page.

Reliability by generation new faces

Two new crossovers from Volkswagen: Atlas and Tiguan

Atlas front quarter

For some time Volkswagen has aimed to become the world’s largest auto maker. Their weak spot has been North America, where they lag far behind Toyota and General Motors. To rectify this, Volkswagen invested heavily in a new Tennessee factory and in two sedans developed specifically for what they perceived to be North American priorities: interior roominess and low cost. But they failed to respond to the shift from sedans to crossovers, and then got caught up in the diesel emissions scandal. Consequently, their North American sales have been down rather than up recently, and Toyota could outsell them globally for yet another year. Volkswagen’s latest gambit: two crossovers developed specifically for the North American market. Will these be good enough?

Tiguan front quarter orange

The first of these, the second-generation Tiguan, is largely based on a model developed for Europe, but with another 4.4 inches of length for North America, enough to squeeze in an optional third-row seat. Compared to the original Tiguan, the new American model (which will be assembled in Mexico) is 10.7 inches longer, a big jump. The new Tiguan’s 185.2-inch length and 72.4-inch width are close to those of the Nissan Rogue, another compact crossover with an optional third row. The segment-leading Honda CR-V is 4.6 inches less lengthy, so close in size to the new European Tiguan.

Tiguan rear quarter

The new Tiguan’s second row can slide fore-and-aft. Sliding it forward a few inches, such that adults in the second row will barely have enough room, opens up enough space for adults (at least those 5-9 like me) to squeeze into the third row. Kids, the most likely occupants, will be an easier fit. Styling is typical VW, so handsome but nothing to grab the eye.

Tiguan third row

Figuring that North Americans prefer their vehicles large, Volkswagen is placing more emphasis on the Atlas, which will be manufactured with the Passat sedan in their Tennessee plant. With a length of 198.3 inches and a width of 77.9 inches, the Atlas will be among the largest crossovers you can buy. A Nissan Pathfinder is about the same size. A Honda Pilot is a little wider but 3.8 inches less lengthy. Only GM’s large crossovers (including the fully redesigned 204.3-inch-long 2018 Chevrolet Traverse) are significantly longer than the Atlas.

Atlas side

Unlike that of the new Tiguan, the Atlas’s exterior has been styled for what VW perceived to be American tastes. Consequently it looks more like a cross between the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the late Mitsubishi Outlander than other Volkswagens, with the fender creases seemingly cribbed from the latter ensuring that the Atlas isn’t as handsome as the former. I personally prefer the cleaner styling of the Tiguan.

Atlas rear quarter

Inside, the Atlas reminds me overly much of the American-market Passat. There’s plenty of room, but the styling seems spartan in a cheap more than in a tasteful way. The door panels in particular seem overly plasticky.

Atlas interior

Unlike that in the Tiguan, the second row does not slide fore-and-aft. Volkswagen might have figured this was unnecessary. With the second row in its fixed location, second row passengers enjoy abundant knee room. Third-row passengers are about as well off as they are in the Honda Pilot, with perhaps a bit more room. The GM crossovers have a roomier third row.

Atlas third row

Volkswagen has stated that, unlike their predecessors, the new Tiguan and Atlas will be priced in line with their key competitors.

Whether these new crossovers meet Volkswagen’s sales goals for them could depend on how well they drive. Will they drive much like any other well-tuned crossover, or will they bring superior dynamics to the table, as many people expect from a German manufacturer? I’ll let you know as soon as I can drive them.

2018 Kia Stinger, my thoughts. And yours?

Stinger logo front quarter
Partly because there were far fewer new cars revealed than in past years, the Stinger emerged as the star of the 2018 Detroit auto show (NAIAS). Some designers I spoke with from other auto companies were fans.

What do you think of the exterior styling? Is it good enough to make people who would otherwise be buying Audis and BMWs consider a Kia?

Stinger rear quarter low city

And the interior? Is it overly spartan or insufficiently upscale? Or tastefully minimalistic?

Stinger interior

Four things I don’t care for:

1. No manual transmission. Both engines will be paired with an eight-speed automatic.

2. The sensor for the adaptive cruise control is located in the center of the grille, and has been painted to unconvincingly blend in with the rest of the grille.

Stinger nose low

3. The marker lamps on the rear quarters look like either an afterthought or a bad execution of whatever the designer originally had in mind.

Stinger side low

4. Are they really going to call it “Stinger?”

Strengths:

1. Sporty proportions from the side, with a long hood and sweeping, relatively low roofline. From some angles the Stinger could pass for something expensive and Italian.

2. When viewed from the front, the car’s nose appears wider and lower than those of competitors.

3. Dimensions in between those of the BMW 3 and 5 Series. Two inches longer and wider than an Infiniti Q50, so pushing the limits of how large a truly driver-oriented car can be, hopefully without going over. Interior space seemed closer to the 3 than the 5, and about even with the Infiniti. So it’s adequate but perhaps short of midsize.

4. Hatchback utility.

Stinger hatch open rear quarter

5. Performance appears to have been the top priority when developing the car. The proportions not only look good, but should contribute to excellent handling. The engines, a 255-horsepower 2.0T four and a 365-horsepower 3.3T V6, should be up to the task. With the V6, the brakes are large Brembos. (The four-cylinder Stinger will have 18-inch rather than 19-inch wheels and tires are smaller brakes.)

Stinger front quarter dark background

One big question mark: curb weight. The related Genesis G80 tips the scales at 4,290 pounds. The Kia Stinger will be a few inches shorter, but slicing a few inches from a car’s length and wheelbase doesn’t usually shave many pounds. Also, the 3.3T engine likely weighs more than the 3.8 standard in the G80. It doesn’t seem likely that the Stinger will weigh less than 4,000 pounds when equipped with the V6, so a quest for agile handling faces a steep uphill battle against the laws of physics. (Agility tends to be elusive once a car’s curb weight exceeds 3,500 pounds.)

Would you prefer a less sporty sedan? Genesis (Hyundai’s new upscale division) probably has a sibling on the way.

All of the information Kia has provided so far, including photos with better lighting than I could manage at the auto show:

2018 Kia Stinger information and photos