Vehicle reliability survey’s shock results

One of the world’s most respected research companies has ranked car makers for their dependability — and the results will embarrass some.

Kia has been named the most trouble-free mainstream brand in a highly respected US quality survey, just shading Toyota in the rankings.

Toyota’s luxury offshoot, Lexus, topped the J.D. Power rankings with just 81 problems per 100 cars, well below the industry average of 121. Porsche was second with 86 and Kia third with 97. It is the first time Kia has topped the rankings for mainstream brands.

There will be plenty of blushes in automotive boardrooms around the world as some well-known — and very expensive brands — posted shocking results.

Land Rover once again anchored the survey, with 244 problems per 100 vehicles, just beneath Alfa Romeo and Jaguar. Notoriously secretive Tesla refused J.D. Power permission to survey its customers in some states, but the company says it gathered a “robust sample” from other states to end up with a score of 176, which would have ranked it fourth worst.

The survey, which has run for the past 32 years, looks at vehicle dependability in the first three years of ownership. It is a US-based study, so the results can’t be directly translated to the Australian market because some of our cars are imported from factories in different countries.

But it is the most comprehensive and accurate quality information available to Australian car buyers because, unlike their overseas counterparts, local brands refuse to share their quality information with the public. Industry experts say the JD Power brand rankings are consistent with local surveys.

The results are a remarkable coup for the Korean car industry, which was once derided for low-quality vehicles.

Korean brands Kia, Hyundai and Hyundai’s luxury offshoot Genesis all ranked in the top ten – Hyundai was 7th and Genesis 8th. Korean cars averaged 99 problems per 100 cars, compared with Japanese brands on 118, US brands on 126 and European brands on 131.

European luxury brands were a mixed bag. Only Porsche and BMW (ranked 11th) scored above the industry average. Of the mainstream brands, Mitsubishi and Mazda were ranked above average, while Subaru, Nissan, Ford, Honda and Volkswagen were below average.

J.D. Power said this year’s survey found vehicle dependability at an all-time high. The average problems experienced by owners fell by 10 per cent over last year.

“The study results validate what we have known for some time,” said Dave Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power. “Automakers are making increasingly dependable vehicles — but there are still some problem areas that need to be addressed and some warning signs on the horizon.”

One of those is the increasing complexity of vehicle technology.

“Most owners aren’t experiencing their vehicles breaking down or falling apart but, for many, vehicle technology continues to function poorly or inconsistently. If an owner can’t rely on a system to work as they expect, it is also considered a lack of dependability. It affects their overall view of the vehicle and their likelihood of staying loyal to their automaker. In the future, dependability will partially be determined by the ability to solve problems through vehicle updates and the avoidance of technology obsolescence.”

Some makers, led by Tesla, are using over-the-air patches to fix tech glitches and update infotainment and safety systems.

The survey groups problems into eight main categories: audio/communication/entertainment/navigation, engine/transmission, exterior, interior, features/controls/displays, driving experience, heating/ventilation/airconditioning and seats.

The survey found that pick-up trucks and SUVs were less dependable than cars and smartphone integration was causing headaches for owners.

Most new cars can now mirror your phone’s menus on the centre screen via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, allowing you to access apps while driving.

But Sargent said they could be glitchy, causing frustration.

“It’s a recurring theme. With smartphone apps increasingly giving owners an alternative, some will give up on the vehicle’s built-in systems that caused that initial frustration. That’s problematic for automakers, as a lot of the vehicle’s value is tied up in these systems and they don’t want to hand this business over to third parties.”

The Porsche 911 was ranked the most dependable model in the survey, while the Kia Sorento and Kia Sportage each won their segments. Other popular cars to rank highly include the Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Sonata, while top-ranking SUVs included the Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester and Hyundai Tucson.

Of the luxury models, the standouts were the Lexus ES, NX and RX, Genesis G80, BMW 2 Series, Lexus NX, Porsche Macan and Mercedes GLA.

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