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

Will This Help Sell Buicks?

2016-buick-verano-sport-touring-013
Buick offers some fine cars, but their marketing strategies suggest a combination of frustration and desperation. For most of their models Buick now offers:

1. A 1SV trim level

2. A “Sport Touring” trim level

The 1SV model lacks only a few features than the next level up, but costs far less. To take the most extreme example, in terms of both feature differences and savings, the 1SV LaCrosse lacks only a power tilt / telescoping steering wheel, spare tire, satellite radio, and cargo net, yet lists for $4,000 less. At the other extreme, the 1SV Encore lacks only floor mats and a cargo cover (both available as accessories) and costs $1,375 less. The catch? The 1SV cars are offered in few colors, and with no options aside from an engine block heater. If you want a different color or any options, you’ve got to make the big jump to the regular base model. Chevrolet also employs this strategy, but at least Chevrolet is supposed to be the value brand. Buick is supposed to be a semi-premium brand. Don’t know what that is? The 1SV models suggest that Buick doesn’t know, either.

Back in the 1980s Buick offered performance-oriented “T-Type” variants of many of its cars. I can’t entirely explain why, but I loved the things. They didn’t always have special engines (though some did), but they had sport suspensions and appearance tweaks that really made a difference. Recently Buick decided to take a stab at offering sporty models again, but the new “Sport Touring” models suggest a minimal effort, at best, little if anything more than a spoiler and different wheels.

One strategy attempts to reach buyers at lower price points, but not really. The other attempts to reach buyers seeking sportier cars, but not really. Will either strategy win them any additional sales? If it does, then at what cost to any image they possess as a brand to be taken seriously?

40th Car Reliability Stats Update

Mazdas rear quarter fields
Do something four times a year for ten years, and you’ll have done it 40 times. Today’s update to TrueDelta’s car reliability stats, covering through the end of June 2016, is our 40th. I can’t believe it’s really been that many.

Car reliability has improved dramatically since we began. For some models (including the 2013 Toyota Tacoma) dozens of members have reported no repairs in the past year.

That said, it remains riskier to buy a “first year” model. We see this even with one of the most reliable makes, Honda. The glitchiest 2016s include the new Pilot and HR-V. The new Kia Sorento, proclaimed elsewhere as “the most reliable new car,” has also fared poorly in our survey. The difference: they conducted their survey back in April 2015, soon after the new Sorento first reached dealers. Owners hadn’t had the crossovers long enough for problems to appear. The entire year covered by our latest stats occurred after their survey.

An exception to the first-year drama: the new fourth-gen Mazda Miata has required hardly any reported repairs.

The solution if you care more about avoiding repairs than possessing the new new thing: wait a year (or at least until we have some stats). While the Porsche Macan has been among the glitchiest 2015s, its second model year has been nearly problem-free.

Interested in “more experienced” automobiles? Some 2006s have been about as reliable as the average new car. These include the first year of the third-gen Mazda Miata plus the Toyota Matrix, Pontiac Vibe, Honda Ridgeline, Honda CR-V, and–one not like the others–BMW Z4.

How did a BMW make the cut? Sports cars tend to fare well because many are only driven in good weather on good roads on the occasional weekend. (Yes, the Miata also benefits from this.)

View the updated stats.

In Reliability: New Faces, New Scales, and by Generation

Reliability by generation BuickPeople sometimes find the breadth and depth of TrueDelta’s car reliability information overwhelming. Even those that don’t often want a quick snapshot of how a model has been faring over multiple model years. For both purposes we decided to add car reliability stats by model generation.

What’s a model generation? When a car model receives a significant update, it begins a new generation. As in every case save “reliability trends,” the new specs are based on survey responses over the past four quarters.

For various reasons, it makes sense to represent reliability by generation in terms of a percentage of the average (for the model years included in the calculation, so 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 for the 2008-2012 Buick Enclave) rather than as an actual repair frequency (which will continue to be displayed when viewing reliability by model year).

This presented a new problem: our green-yellow-red eleven-point scales have been based on minimums and maximums rather than averages. There were good reasons for this, including that the distribution of stats around the average changes as cars age. But scales based on the average would be clearer, and would make more sense when comparing generations. So we’ve developed new continuous scales based on the average repair frequencies for the model years in question.

At the same time, we’ve added a fourth, blue, extra-happy face. Before we had a green face that roughly equaled better than average, a yellow face for worse than average, and a red face for much worse than average. The new faces are more precise:

Blue very happy: up to 75% of the average
Green happy: from 75% to 125% of the average (“about average”)
Yellow without expression: from 125% to 162.5% of the average
Red unhappy: over 162.5% of the average (rare)

The new continuous (no fixed points) scale runs from 37.5% to 212.5% of the average. This puts the split between green and yellow at the midpoint. Plus few models exceed either extreme. Those that do are either very good or very bad.

This said, as cars age and the average increases (from about 25 repair trips per 100 vehicles per year for nearly new cars to about 80 repair trips per 100 vehicles per year for those over a decade old) it becomes more common to peg the “very good” end of the scale and less common to peg the “very bad” end of the scale.

You’ll find a link to car reliability stats by model generation on the car reliability home page, below the menus.