By on June 21, 2012

In August last year, then Volkswagen of America sales chief Mark Barnes was moved to a post as “Vice President of Customer Experience” to make room for GM veteran Frank Trivieri, who took Mark’s job. At the time, I recommended : “Get a new job, Mr. Barnes! When next year’s J.D. Power study comes out, your derriere will be on the line!”

Instead of a thank you for the well-meant career advice, I had an irate Dr. Carsten Krebs on the line, who identified himself as the Director of Corporate Communications at Volkswagen Group of America, Inc, before he tore into me. He demanded a takedown of the story, which was denied. Herr Dr. Krebs claimed that Barnes “loves his new job.” It turned out as huey. Barnes loved the job so much that he signed on at GM, emigrated to China and took Susan Docherty’s job as VP of sales, marketing and aftersales for GM’s international operations. Barnes joined GM on May 15, he removed himself from the firing line a week before Wolfsburg needed a scapegoat for yet another horrible showing on the J.D. Power ranking.

[1] Lexus (73) [1] Lexus (73) [1] Porsche (83)
[2] Jaguar (75) [2] Honda (86) [2] Acura (86)
[3] Porsche (75) [3] Acura (89) [3] Mercedes-Benz (87)
[4] Cadillac (80) [4] Mercedes-Benz (94) [4] Lexus (88)
[5] Honda (83) [5] Mazda (100) [5] Ford (93)
[6] Acura (84) [6] Porsche (100) [6] Honda (95)
[7] Infiniti (84) [7] Toyota (101) [7] Hyundai (102)
[8] Toyota (88) [8] Infiniti (102) [8] Lincoln (106)
[9] Mercedes-Benz (96) [9] Cadillac (103) [9] Infiniti (107)
[10] BMW (97) [10] GMC (104) [10] Industry Average (108)
[11] Mazda (97) [11] Industry Average (107) [11] Volvo (109)
[12] GMC (99) [12] Hyundai (108) [12] Ram (110)
[13] Nissan (99) [13] Subaru (108) [13] Audi (111)
[14] Ram (99) [14] BMW (109) [14] Cadillac (111)
[15] Chevrolet (100) [15] Chevrolet (109) [15] Chevrolet (111)
[16] Industry Average (102) [16] Volvo (109) [16] Nissan (111)
[17] Audi (105) [17] Chrysler (110) [17] BMW (113)
[18] Buick (106) [18] Lincoln (111) [18] Mercury (113)
[19] Hyundai (107) [19] Audi (113) [19] Buick (114)
[20] Kia (107) [20] Kia (113) [20] Mazda (114)
[21] Lincoln (107) [21] Buick (114) [21] Scion (114)
[22] Volvo (108) [22] Jaguar (114) [22] Toyota (117)
[23] Subaru (109) [23] Ram (114) [23] Subaru (121)
[24] Jeep (110) [24] Ford (116) [24] Chrysler (122)
[25] Suzuki (115) [25] Nissan (117) [25] Suzuki (122)
[26] Chrysler (116) [26] Jeep (122) [26] GMC (126)
[27] Scion (117) [27] Land Rover (123) [27] Kia (126)
[28] Ford (118) [28] Scion (123) [28] Jeep (129)
[29] Land Rover (119) [29] MINI (131) [29] Dodge (130)
[30] Dodge (124) [30] Volkswagen (131) [30] Jaguar (130)
[31] Mitsubishi (124) [31] Mitsubishi (133) [31] Mini (133)
[32] Volkswagen (124) [32] Suzuki (136) [32] Volkswagen (135)
[33] MINI (139) [33] Dodge (137) [33] Mitsubishi (146)
[34] Fiat (151) [34] Land Rover (170)
[35] smart (151)

This story crossed my mind as J.D. Power announced its 2012 U.S. Initial Quality Study, which measures the alleged quality of vehicles, based on “problems” reported by customers at 90 days of ownership. In the olden days, these problems used to be warranty cases that landed the car in the shop. These have become so rare that J.D.Power resorted to counting difficulties with understanding new technologies as a “problem.” According to the study, “owners report more problems related to audio, entertainment, and navigation systems than in any other vehicle area.”

Something that is hardly admitted: The results hinge a lot on perception instead on reality. Look at the Toyota result. The 2010 measurement was taken during the height of the sudden acceleration hysteria. Toyota dropped to rank 22. A year later, with everything forgiven and forgotten, Toyota was on rank 7.  This year Toyota has even fewer complaints, and lands on place 8.

Look at Jaguar’s jump from 22 last year to 2 this year. Trust me, JLR has not re-engineered its cars, bought new production lines and changed the workforce.

Barnes did the right thing by moving to China where J.D.Power is being largely ignored. Back at home, assistants and consultants will be busy producing charts such as the above (I still have the template,) while advertising agencies put (for a fee) the 21 different segment awards into their ads.  21 awards for 35 contestants – everybody will be happy.

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30 Comments on “Volkswagen VP Heeds TTAC Career Advice, Leaves For GM A Week Before J.D.Power Study Release...”

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    A friendly edit: the American synonym for “bullshit” frequently used in polite company is spelled “hooey” not “huey.” “Huey” when not a used as a diminutive of the proper name “Hugh” refers, at least to Americans of a certain age who had an all-expense paid US government trip to SE Asia in the mid-to late 1960s and early 1970s, a UH-1 helicopter.

    Chop, chop! ;-)

    On topic for a moment: While I suppose there’s some utility in knowing that buyers of new cars didn’t like the way they worked, it is unfortunate that JD Power has conflated measuring the “customer experience” with manufacturing defects that require a repair in the first 90 days of ownership, a far more useful bit of information. You have to wonder about people who buy a car and then decide they don’t like this or that aspect of it, whether its the electronics or the fancy DCT. Did these folks bother to take a test drive for more than 10 minutes? OTOH, how was I to know that my new Saab 9-5 would be DOA in my driveway about 10 days after I took delivery with some sort of ECU failure? That’s a defect, folks, and was duly reported as such.

  • avatar

    Honda/Acura on the down, go figure.

    J.D. Power is a heavy weighted metric, interesting they are moving the goal post in IQS with weighted the use of the instrument cluster?

    • 0 avatar

      While I question the value of this kind of study (beyond keeping J.D. Power in the headlines), I don’t understand this comment.

      Honda’s numbers have decreased over this period, from 95 in 2010, 86 in 2011, to 83 in 2012. How that indicates that Honda is “on the down” is beyond me (unless I’m simply misinterpreting your comment–which is highly possible).

      • 0 avatar

        Take off the rose-colored glasses. Honda is getting passed and bumped further down the list. Why, because everyone is passing them by and it may correlate to recalls since Honda was number one last year and Toyota the year before.

      • 0 avatar

        Right or wrong, the ‘data’ in question simply does not support your conclusion. There might be other sources of information that do support your claims (I honestly don’t know), but the numbers here clearly don’t.

    • 0 avatar

      While Bertel’s points are all pretty much spot-on, it is the opinion of many (including myself) that J.D. Powers IQS is a nearly useless barometer of actual quality for the consumer.

      J.D. Powers IQS measures a wide array of perceived problems as reported by end users, that run the gamut from the truly trivial/mundane to things such as ‘hard to program clock radios’ to bad experiences at time of delivery (e.g. a scuff in one of the wheels).

      I still maintain that while it’s not perfect, Consumer Reports reliability ratings, which cull data from hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of new and used car owners, and break down and specify what the actual problems are by make and model year, in a systemic, logic manner (i.e. body integrity, transmission, motor-minor, motor-major, cooling system, etc.), is by far the best presented data that ordinary consumers are able to constructively use to increase their statistical odds of purchasing a reliable and durable vehicle.

      As far as Volkswagen is concerned, not only have I had abysmal experiences with their products (the latest one as recent as a newly purchased Passat 2.0T in 2006 – since dumped), but nearly everyone I know who has owned a VW has been driven insane by the frequency of mechanical and electrical problems, and the awful treatment they’ve received at VW dealerships, even while under warranty.

      • 0 avatar

        I’d 2nd that about VW.

        I also don’t think JD Powers is that great of a metric. I do like Consumers Reports methodology, except their recommendations always leave me a bit wanting. There is an emotion that driving evoques in people and hard numbers don’t always cover that.

        ie Jeremy Clarkson talking about the difference between a ferrari and a mclaren. The mclaren hits all the numbers, but misses out on the emotion. He does a better job of explaining it than I can. But I really do understand what he means.

  • avatar
    Jean-Pierre Sarti

    To me these awards are about as useful as a piece of corn stuck between my teeth. I have been so desensitized to all these awards that now I just ignore all of them.

  • avatar

    The most interesting thing about this list, I think, is the relationship of Ford and VW.

    If you mapped this out over the last 4 or 5 years I would suspect that you would see that the players that are currently in the top 1/3 of the list have consistently hung out in that group. Same thing at the bottom – when was the last time you didn’t see MINI or smart or Dodge hanging out at the bottom.

    The rise and fall of Ford and the inability of VW to dig out of the bottom 1/3 I think could be attributed to a common link – the DSG or Powershift transmissions they both use.

    In the simplest of terms – the thing is clunky (…I know, some are and some aren’t) and you will Never win the perceived quality war with that kind of handicap (my survey being the perfect example). That and telling the customer that “they all do that” is not a winning strategy.

    • 0 avatar

      Wasn’t a lot of Ford’s problem thanks to difficulties with MyFordTouch? Apparently they are refining it and the new version is said to be better.

      What I find a little funny is that I just heard a MINI commercial on the radio talking about its J D Power award, I think for Best Dealer Service or something. No wonder, since the cars spend so much time in the shop :(.

      I love to tell the story from Car magazine a few years back about one of these surveys.

      “Have you had any trouble with your car?” the fellow on the phone said.


      That seemed a little odd since the car was a … well, I have forgotten what it was, but it was one of the least reliable cars on the road.

      All that had happened is that the car’s engine blew up on the freeway. The guy called the dealer, they sent someone up to pick him up, they got him to work and the car was towed to the dealer. There was no problem, of course, because the service was perfect!


    • 0 avatar

      I wouldn’t fault the DSG transmission for VW’s reliability woes in the US. A conventional automatic is paired with the 2.slo and 2.5. The mass market vehicles don’t utilize the DSG unless it is in the TDI trim. GTI/GLI/TDI issues with the DSG wouldn’t have enough statistical impact to place VW so low. They have plenty of other things they suck at, my 09 GTI not being one so far.

      Ford WAS killed by the Powershift transmissions, along with MFT. It is on all Focus and Fiestas, and the fix didn’t come in time for the survey. The MFT fix came too late as well. I didn’t take the JDPower survey for my Focus, even though I was called and sent a survey, because my father-in-law works for Ford. He knows my Focus was a disaster, and that is enough for me.

      • 0 avatar

        Ford’s claim that their score is entirely due to a late fix for MFT was BS last year, and it’s BS this year. The Ford Focus, with both MFT and Powershift, got a good score. Some of their cars have other problems that, while usually minor, other cars don’t have and that they’ve been slow to address. I’ll be posting something on this as well as VW and FIAT later today.

  • avatar

    I am actually contrarian about these awards, anyone bragging about them is just telling me that I am spending extra money for them to game the system while likely ignoring true quality and durability.

    OTOH, if they instead put out an ease of use survey and award, I could see value in that.

  • avatar

    Squeaks and rattles count as a defect in this survey. I’m sure that VW’s de-contenting of the Jetta and Passat hasn’t helped them here.

  • avatar

    Steady Chevy hasn’t budged from its 15-spot, but now finds itself just about the industry average.

    I wonder if their # of problems goes up in the coming years as Chevy MyLink starts propagating across the model line. Ditto Cadillac’s CUE system.

  • avatar

    I expect any new car I might buy to work properly, or it’s the dealer’s job to make it so. So these kind of surveys aren’t interesting to me. Long-term results are the key. Show me the graph of what percentage of brands and models are still on the road after 10 or 20 years– that seems a better measure of quality. It would reflect the risks and costs of maintenance after the warranty runs out, when it’s done on my dime.

  • avatar

    I still think the information contained in this “study” invalidates it by its own very existence.

    In 2010, Mercury was #18 with 113 problems while Ford was #5 with 93 problems.

    In 2011 Chrysler was #17 with 110 problems while Dodge was all the way down at #33 with 137 problems.

    Neither Mercury nor Dodge, in those years (excluding the Viper, which might have sold 50 units in 2011, and possibly the Dakota, as I’m not sure if it counts as a Dodge or Ram in its twilight years) had any vehicles, platforms, or even features which were not shared with the parent company’s eponymous lines. Notice that Ram is broken out seperately from Dodge beginning in 2011. The cars are the same, except for minor interior and exterior styling differences, and are built in the same plants, with the same parts, on the same lines, by the same workers. Where’s the disparity?

    I agree with previous comments. This has little to do with real world experiences and more to do with perception (and thus expectation) of brand quality.

    I would say Toyota will take a tumble in 2012, what with the new Camry’s much cheaper build quality and nasty touch screen radio UI.

    I know it’s been said before ad nauseam, but why the heck isn’t anyone doing studies 5, 10, 15 years into car ownership? The owner pool might be smaller, but the information would actually be useful.

    I’ve seen 2+ year old rental cars with 60k miles and more on them that have had little to no trouble. Cars are simply reliable enough today to last the first few years without major problems. 90 days is almost completely worthless. Misunderstanding your new infotainment system is not a build quality problem.

    • 0 avatar

      “Misunderstanding your new infotainment system is not a build quality problem.”

      If the infotainment system is built flawlessly but everyone thinks it sucks because it isn’t intuitive or easy to use, then yes it is a quality problem.

      • 0 avatar

        The definition of quality – Whatever the customer says it is.

        Long term durability
        Ease of use
        Good dealer service
        Comfy seats
        Big cup holders

  • avatar

    What’s the deal with Jaguar? 30 > 22 > 2??? Holy Hannah.

    • 0 avatar

      There are three ways to improve scores:

      1. Identify and fix problems before they get into the car, by redesigning parts or assembly processes

      2. More intensively inspect the cars at the plant and/or dealer

      3. Educate the customer on how to use the car’s features

      My guess is that Jaguar has done all three. Luxury lines in general do more of #2 and #3 than mainstream brands.

    • 0 avatar

      I thought that was kind of amazing too. They are a great car, but I would rather know how they fare after a few years.

  • avatar

    I’m surprised the results of this study made it to TTAC, with Cadillac beating out Honda/Acura, and Chevy above media darling Hyundai.
    But of course it is with the “this study is junk” argument applied this year. Was it more valid in 2010 when everyone was where you expected them to be?

  • avatar

    I tend to agree the study measures a lot of things that are not quality defects, and I suspect a lot of Power’s motivation is the extraction of consulting fees from the perennial backmarker companies. That said, my lousy 2012 GTI is one DSG repair away from a lemon law buy-back, so there does seem to be something to it.

  • avatar

    ” In the olden days, these problems used to be warranty cases that landed the car in the shop. These have become so rare that J.D.Power resorted to counting difficulties with understanding new technologies as a ‘problem.’ ”

    If this is correct, then JD Power is simply watering down their standards and should no longer be taken seriously. If baby boomers failing to understand the multitude of computer technology in cars is a ‘problem’ JD Power should not even be a metric in determining automobile quality. In an IT company (such as my chosen vocation) at best such trouble is an issue for a Software Interface Design group and maybe the Training and Documentation department. Last I checked most automobile manufacturers didn’t also moonlight as the next Microsoft or Oracle Inc. Spread the word, JD Power is out.

  • avatar

    I have not met a single VW owner in the US who hasn’t had some combination of a crap car or crap service from the company.

    The fact that they are still able to sell any cars here really is a testament to their marketing organization. Woe be unto them if they lose their ‘edginess’ as a brand.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    I used to work by the VW headquarters in metro DC. All of their employees drove like a-holes. I just considered it “fair warning”.

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