All Autos More Reliable But Asian Brands Still Top J.D. Power Rankings

Pamela G. Knowles
J.D. Power ranked the Porsche 911 sports car the most dependable car in its 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study, a title the sports car has held the last two out of three years. Porsche

Autos have hit a new high in reliability, according to the latest study from the J.D. Power market research firm.

Lexus, Porsche and Kia topped this year’s dependability rankings. Jaguar, Alfa Romeo and Land Rover were at the bottom. 

Asian brands tended to score the highest for dependability. The domestic nameplates were in the middle but still slightly below the industry average. The European brands fared the worst. 

The Porsche 911, however, ranked as the most dependable model. It’s the second time in three years the sports cars has held that ranking. 

Very Few Unreliable Vehicles

J.D. Power surveys more than 30,000 car owners annually, asking all about their experiences with their vehicles. The firm uses the information to compile a series of reports, including the J.D. Power 2021 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study released Thursday.

The study found that vehicle dependability is at an all-time high. The number of problems owners reported with vehicles from the 2018 model year declined 10% from last year’s report. 

“It is a great time to buy a three-year-old vehicle if you are a consumer,” said Dave Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power. “There are very few unreliable vehicles out there.”

J.D. Power has conducted the study for 32 consecutive years, looking at the number of problems per 100 vehicles experienced by their owners during the past 12 months.  

This year’s study found that vehicle dependability improved to its best level since J.D. Power started the annual report. The industry averaged 121 problems per 100 vehicles down from 134 in 2020. The lower the score, the better.

The differences between many of the brands are often slight. Only three points separate fourth-ranked Toyota from No. 7 Hyundai. Similarly, only eight points separate luxury brands Cadillac, Genesis, Lincoln, Acura and BMW.  

“Plus or minus two or three points isn’t statistically significant, but we give everyone a score,” Sargent said.  

Larger jumps do represent differences in brand reliability that consumers might want to consider when they shop, Sargent said. The gap between Genesis, with 102 problems per 100 vehicles, and Land Rover, with 244, is significant, he said. 

The study researches 177 specific problems grouped into eight major vehicle categories: infotainment, communication and navigation systems; heating, ventilation and air conditioning; engine and transmission; controls and displays; driving experience; exterior; interior; and seats.

Technology is a Painpoint

Automakers fared better in all eight categories, but the gain in infotainment and communication was only marginal and remains the area with the most problems.

“A lot of the pain points are in the technology, the infotainment systems and the driver assistance systems,” Sargent said. “Consumers are finding them confusing or don’t work as they would like. They are comparing their vehicle with their phone. Everything works fine on their phone, so why doesn’t it work on the vehicle?”  

Recent model year vehicles rarely have a mechanical failure. 

“Only very seldom does a vehicle leave you stuck by the side of the road and you need to call a tow truck,” Sargent said. “Things aren’t wearing out or falling off the vehicle.”   

Sedans proved to be the most reliable vehicles, averaging 111 problems. Trucks were the worst with 130 problems. SUVs came in between at 122. 

Sargent said automakers should get a better handle on truck and SUV reliability because they account for 80% of light vehicle retail sales.

Asian Brands Top Multiple Studies

J.D. Power’s finding that Asian brands fared better than others mirrored some of the results from the Consumer Reports annual study of vehicle reliability that also came out Thursday. 

Consumer Reports also highlighted the models it likes best, organized by price segments. Eight of the magazine’s top 10 picks are Japanese nameplates, including four from Toyota and its Lexus luxury brand. Subaru had two models. Tesla was the only domestic automaker with a top pick.    

J.D. Power also published a list of top picks over multiple vehicle segments. Toyota Motor Corp. won five segment awards for the Lexus ES and Toyota Avalon sedans, Toyota Sienna minivan, Toyota Tundra pickup and Lexus GX SUV. Lexus is Toyota’s luxury brand. 

Tesla appeared in the J.D. Power results for the first time, logging 176 problems per 100 vehicles. But the market research firm said that’s based only on partial data. It could not officially rank Tesla among other brands because the electric vehicle manufacturer doesn’t grant J.D. Power permission to survey its owners in 15 states where it’s required, including large Tesla markets such as California. Tesla’s score was calculated based on a sample of surveys from owners in the other 35 states.

Another annual J.D. Power measure called the U.S. Initial Quality Study examines the problems owners encounter in the first 90 days after purchasing a new vehicle. But it’s not a strong indicator that the cars ranked high in initial quality will prove durable after three years of use. Six of the 10 brands ranked highest in the 2018 Initial Quality Study made the 10 highest rated in the 2021 vehicle dependability study. 

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