Consumer Reports Announces Reliability Data; Not a TTAC Fan
After David Champion, head of Consumer Reports‘ auto testing, presented this year’s reliability results, I asked two simple questions. 1. What month were most surveys returned (i.e. how old are the data)? 2. What problem rates do the dots represent? Or, to keep it as simple as possible, what was the average problem rate for a 2008 car? Unfortunately, Mr. Champion did not know the answer to either question. He could only respond that the surveys went out in “the springtime,” and that the dots are relative. As if the actual problem rates they represent were of no consequence. In fact, both things matter. The truth about CR, as we’ve noted here: before: 1. The data are already about five months old, and will be 17 months old before they are updated again. 2. The differences between the dots for a 2008 model are about one problem for every thirty cars. But, since even the head of CR’s auto research doesn’t know these facts, it should come as no surprise that their millions of subscribers haven’t a clue. And then things got ugly…
Afterwards, CR’s head of publicity came up to speak with me, and was very combative. He insisted that I retract a recent statement that CR’s data were 17 months old. My response: weren’t they 17 months old when I wrote that? Well, yes, but not anymore. Won’t these new data also be 17 months old before they’re updated? Well, yes, but… He then challenged that my turnaround would be no better if I had 1.4 million responses. You know, because its better to be large than to be up-to-date. Didn’t the Detroit auto companies wear out this argument?
Finally he brought up my comment on David Holzman’s piece about the future car conference CR hosted recently. My comment: “CR avoids corruption itself, but corrupts other media as much as possible.” Or something to that effect. My response: didn’t we just enjoy a nice meal, preceded by an open bar? Weren’t all of the questions other than mine easy? (Actually, mine should have been easy, to answer at least.) His only response: there were tough questions. But there weren’t. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re not invited back next year.
[CR paid for MK’s parking, lunch and the two ginger ales from the open bar. Fair disclosure: TTAC has a contract with MK’s TrueDelta for pricing and specification data]
Michael Karesh lives in West Bloomfield, Michigan, with his wife and three children. In 2003 he received a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. While in Chicago he worked at the National Opinion Research Center, a leader in the field of survey research. For his doctoral thesis, he spent a year-and-a-half inside an automaker studying how and how well it understood consumers when developing new products. While pursuing the degree he taught consumer behavior and product development at Oakland University. Since 1999, he has contributed auto reviews to Epinions, where he is currently one of two people in charge of the autos section. Since earning the degree he has continued to care for his children (school, gymnastics, tae-kwan-do...) and write reviews for Epinions and, more recently, The Truth About Cars while developing TrueDelta, a vehicle reliability and price comparison site.
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