By on February 3, 2015


Quick question: what was the number one factor in your most recent new vehicle purchase? Was it styling? Performance? Features? Financing? Price? Comfort? Practicality? Or that old stalwart, quality? If you answered in the affirmative to that last suggestion, you’re part of a shrinking bloc. There were a lot of winners in the 2014 auto sales race, but quality wasn’t one of them.

Consider the top 5 market share-gaining brands in the 2014 calendar year. They were Maserati (up 171%), Jeep (up 41.2%), Ram (up 27.5%), Mitsubishi (up 24.8%), and Subaru (up 21.0%). If we leave out the ultra-luxe niche brands and those purchased exclusively by the brain-eating undead, we have Jeep, Ram, Subaru, Lincoln (up 15.6%), and Audi (up 15.2%). If we re-organize once more and focus on groups with a wide variety of offerings, it’s Subaru at the head of the line, followed by Fiat-Chrysler (up 16.1%), Nissan Motor Group (up 11.1%), Kia (up 8.4%) and Mazda (up 7.7%).  Now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at the results of J.D. Power’s 2014 Initial Quality Study.


                Hmm, that’s interesting. Of the non-luxury brands that gained the most market share, only Kia beat the industry average for defects per 100 vehicles. Ram tied the average, Nissan slipped below it, and Subaru, Mazda, Mitsubishi, and Jeep are all slumming it near the bottom. How about J.D. Power’s 2014 Vehicle Dependability Study, which looks at the number of problems experienced by owners of 3 year old vehicles in the previous 12 months?


                Things are looking a little better for Subaru and Mazda now, who both beat the industry average by a statistically meaningless margin. Nissan and Kia slipped below it, and Ram, Mitsubishi and Jeep are again in the basement. So there you have it: 2014’s biggest market share gainers were solidly mediocre to poor in J.D. Power’s quality studies. Of course, there is bound to be an outcry here that J.D. Power can’t possibly represent everyone’s lived experience, and that’s fair. But perusing the likes of TrueDelta and Consumer Reports won’t poke any big holes in J.D. Power’s reports; they’re all more or less the same, with a few minor variances. More importantly, perennial quality mavens Honda and Toyota posted year-over-year sales gains of 1.0% and 5.8%, respectively. For Toyota, it was a solid if uninspiring year buoyed by strong performance at Lexus. For Honda, it was the kind of year that makes upper management start to look around for parachutes. What gives?

In the press release for the Initial Quality Study, there’s this interesting nugget about how vehicle defects impact brand loyalty:

Combined data from previous years’ IQS results and the Power Information Network® (PIN) from J.D. Power show that 57 percent of owners who reported no problems stayed with the same brand when they purchased their next new vehicle. Brand loyalty slips to 53 percent among owners who reported just a single problem and to only 48 percent among owners who reported two or more problems.

So according to J.D. Power, there’s only a 57% chance that owning a car with zero defects will lead to trading in your vehicle for the same make the next time around. If you have two or more problems with it (and keep in mind, we’re not talking about weighting these stats to reflect severity in any way), it slips to 48%. Those two numbers both have something in common: they’re F grades. The popular meme says that those who own ultra-reliable cars will return to dealerships like migrating geese, but the data says otherwise. Billions and billions of dollars spent on quality control, and the customer loyalty reward is little better than a coin flip. The Power data is the most compelling evidence yet that the “there are no bad cars anymore” chestnut has really penetrated the mainstream. If even the owners of the best-made cars are largely up for grabs, then what does that say about the conventional wisdom that quality conquers all?

Even if you don’t believe it, assume for the sake of argument that it’s true that it’s not that difficult to build a reliable car anymore. Even the most problem-plagued models are likely to have faults more of the annoying variety, with serious mechanical failures few and far between. Most consumers will have their expectations of reliability met, unless they get a statistically rare lemon. If’s that’s the case, then how long can quality endure as a selling point? This is analogous to the problem Volvo is facing right now in regards to safety. Safety has been a key selling point for Volvo for decades. But who makes unsafe cars anymore? Safety standards are stringent, and even cheap cars have an increasing number of whiz-bang safety technologies. Take away safety, and suddenly Volvo loses what little distinctiveness it had left. Volvo’s only hope now is to become the Chinese answer to Audi in the United States. Good luck with that.

There is at least one man in the auto industry who firmly understands that quality isn’t the make-or-break proposition it once was: Carlos Ghosn. As the other manufacturers choked on their passenger cars in 2014, Nissan grew sedan sales 15%. Of full-line brands including trucks, only FCA had a better year. All of this came on the back of a brand which, quite frankly, has shrugged its shoulders at quality for most of the last decade and a half. Nissan’s quality record in the United States is mixed, but looking back through the last couple of years of J.D. Power studies tends to support the conclusion that the company has been solidly below average since around the turn of the millennium. Clearly, there is something besides quality that is pulling people into Nissan dealers. Maybe it’s styling. Maybe it’s value for the money. Maybe it’s performance, or fuel efficiency. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter; all that it demonstrates is that it’s possible to build sales success on the back of supposedly subpar quality. FCA’s sales data says much the same thing. Inversely, the recent success of the brands with iffy quality means that Volkswagen’s sales disaster can’t be traced to reliability woes alone. Weak or missing product, poor marketing, and an infamous dealership experience are all more salient factors. Perhaps it’s time to question the value of endlessly harping on quality as the sole determinant of success. Or at least, devise better statistical tools to understand reliability. That last point is especially important, given how automobile technology has changed so much since the introduction of these surveys.

Like safety, quality is rapidly disappearing as an independently marketable category. The days where squishy, bland cars could be counted on to generate sales by virtue of quality alone are numbered. Toyota has certainly realized this, which explains the direction of much of their new product. The racy new Camry and the pseudo-premium flavor the Corolla both speak to a changed mentality. The FR-S is an attempt to bring some pizzazz back to showrooms, and even the “We ain’t got no room for boring” Highlander commercials are an attempt to push back against the brand’s staid image. Then there’s the un-blanding of Lexus, as that brand heads in a more Germanic direction. At Toyota, quality is still a priority, but in the marketing department it’s already taken a back seat to other virtues. And if Toyota won’t rest on quality alone to sell its vehicles, then who will?

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96 Comments on “Editorial: Who Needs Quality? Or, the Myth of Brand Loyalty...”

  • avatar

    In 10 years and 85,000 miles, the *only* parts I’ve had to replace on my Scion xB have been the sway bar end link bushings. That’s it, excepting tires, filters, wiper blades, and one set of pads & rotors (which are all wear items).

    Why is that too much to ask of my next car?

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      All my former xB1 needed in 7 years and 70k miles was a window switch and a downstream oxygen sensor, plus maintenance and wear items. It was very trouble-free.

      • 0 avatar

        I recently acquired a 1989 Camry V6. Still all-original except for the timing belt, tires, muffler and AC system.

        Imagine that! 26 years old, 160K+ miles on the clock and it still gets 20mpg with the original spark plugs!

        • 0 avatar

          You should maybe replace the spark plugs.

          • 0 avatar

            SaulTigh, last year we very carefully unscrewed the front 3 plugs and checked them out. They were NGK Platinum and they were clean.

            My best friend took real good care of this car and it served as his grand daughter’s daily driver since Oct 2011. She moved away to Kansas City for a new job last month and bought herself a 2014 Corolla when she got there..

            My BF bought a 2015 Avalon and the dealership was going to crush his Camry until I offered him $1.00 for it. It runs great. I took it to the White Sands National Monument on Sunday and it ran like a raped ape up and down US70.

          • 0 avatar

            The front plugs have most likely been replaced on that V6. The rear plugs require removal of the intake manifold, so they tend to get skipped a lot. If you put platinum plugs back there, the improvement in performance and economy may just surprise you.

          • 0 avatar

            X2 I’d replace all plugs even if the front ones look good. That along with some high quality plug wires (NGK). You’re very luck HDC, those are fantastic cars. And I imagine out where you are rust is a non-issue, that 2nd gen camry was scary in how it dissolved in the northeast. Please oh please tell me it has a blue interior!!

            Transmission fluid, brake fluid, coolant, power steering fluid would also be a good thing to change simply as a ‘baseline’ setting for future maintenance. Original shocks are probably toast as well.

          • 0 avatar

            gtemnykh, it has a Blue Cloth interior, all-white exterior. Struts are still OEM and not leaking or mushy (yet). But ride is soft, not floaty, not as tight as with brand new gas struts.

            No rust. This is the desert Southwest, after all. Paint still looks good but black trim and rubber door and window seals are showing age, cracking, peeling, disintegration in places.

            A couple of things I noticed, like a disintegrated dome-light cover, disintegrated high-stop light cover plastic retainer pins, lazy electric door lock on passenger side rear door. Other than that, I haven’t noticed anything repulsive. I can live with it.

            Hey, it came cheap, will only be rarely used, and gets us going if one of our prime vehicles should conk out.

            But this is how it got started with me in the past, to where at one time we had 21 vehicles parked behind the house. My wife knows that I’m a car addict and I am powerless to the scent, lure and pheromones of a great deal.

            I have no doubt that at some point in the future someone will come along and offer me a deal on this Camry I simply can’t refuse. Probably one of Federico’s illegal aliens. I sold most of my other cars to them. I got rid of all those other cars I had when I bought the 2011 Tundra.

            With the price of new and late model used cars these days there is high demand for clean, old cars that still run well.

      • 0 avatar

        192,000 on my Xb1, spark plugs and shocks, nothing else other than routine maintenance (belts, fluids, tires, brake pads, filters). Seriously, nothing else.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s not too much to ask.

      85K on any car, I wouldn’t expect to have to replace anything (sans maintenance
      items like tires).

    • 0 avatar
      spreadsheet monkey

      Ten years is a longer period than most people care about. Many new car customers (and some OEMs) only care that the car gets through its 3 year lease period without any major component failures before they dump it and get another one.

    • 0 avatar

      Dude, my 2010 Jeep Wrangler had better replacement history than your xB over a comparable mileage. Of course it wasn’t 10 years of sitting in the garage, so perhaps it’s going to fall apart in 6 years. Still, it’s nothing special and you can easily match it by buying another Japanese Toyota. They were importing Yarises just recently, check it.

  • avatar

    The age of “quality” being a distinguishing trait seems to be ending. Almost any car from any major manufacturer in the developed world has a reasonably well-built interior and a super-stiff unibody with perfectly fitting panels. Design has been computerised and production has been significantly robotised.

    By 1980s standards, it is difficult to find a truly “bad” new car today. Even reliability is worlds beyond what was available in the 1980s. Late-model Italian exotics are hitting 50k miles and being used as daily drivers. I’m not saying all cars are now as reliable as Corollas, but compared to the 1980s most mainstream cars of today are relatively reliable considering their production volume.

    • 0 avatar

      …that’s what i thought when i bought my volkswagen, but have since learned otherwise: a very expensive lesson…

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, at least in the US, VW is the exception to everything. Their interiors are spectacular for their class (before they fall apart), their engines are smooth and powerful (before they leak everything) and their German Autobahn-tuned suspensions ride and handle far better than Japanese competitors (before the joints wear out and entire links need to be replaced).

  • avatar

    Half the story has to be that quality over all has improved significantly.

    Another factor may be that much of the growth driving sales is from sub-prime auto loans. This segment has traditionally purchased from lower-cost/lower-quality brands.

  • avatar

    Quality is one of the first things I looked at when buying my last 2 vehicles and starting from that point has worked out well for me. It is very hard to ignore one’s experience with a prior vehicle but I’m not about to blindly buy the same brand unless quality is high on that product.
    I do suspect that most assume that new vehicles are quality products and warranty will cover any flaws. I personally won’t make that mistake again.

    • 0 avatar

      Although all brands have improved in the last 7 years, Quality among equals is a myth since some brands are more equal than others when it comes to Quality.

      To wit: America’s best sellers remain the same, year after year.

  • avatar

    If quality doesn’t matter why did Chrysler fire their head of QC after Consumer Reports poor ratings of their products?

  • avatar

    To answer the opening question: none, I do not and will never buy new cars.

  • avatar

    I really wish writers of TTAC articles regarding QUALITY would stop using JD Powers as a reference point for automotive quality, as it’s a deeply flawed tool to measure quality, and use Consumer Reports Reliability Index instead (for the MANY reasons mentioned in past articles/essays by myself, Pch101, and many others).

    The JD Powers Survey is truly useless in measuring anything close to true vehicle quality beyond, at most, a relatively short “honeymoon” period from the time owners take delivery of their vehicles.

    CR uses a much more detailed survey methodology, with a much larger data pool, soliciting specific feedback on an ongoing basis over many years, and is far more likely to produce statistically meaningful AND reliable (maybe pun intended) results.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Maybe you missed the Dependability Survey which was included here. It asks about problems over the last 1 year for cars 3 years old.

    • 0 avatar

      “it’s a deeply flawed tool to measure quality”

      I always thought that whichever OEM spent the most money with JDP got the highest rating.

      But CR evaluators bring their own biases and preferences to the evaluations, such as trying to flip a Suzuki during testing years ago.

      Too bad CR didn’t try to flip the Explorer at that time because it would have flopped over more easily and with less effort on the part of the tester.

    • 0 avatar

      Please don’t misstate my position. JD Power and Consumer Reports both have credible but flawed surveys. Both of them are useful, but as is true with any good survey, one should also consider their limitations.

      JD Power’s VDS is performed at the three-year mark, and is worth using.

      JD Power’s IQS is performed at the ninety-day mark, and considers more than just short-term reliability. It’s probably more useful for the automakers than it is for the consumer, but I wouldn’t ignore it.

    • 0 avatar

      I reference Consumer Reports before i buy anything. I may not go with their suggestion, but i want to know what they think. I like their car reviewers, I like what thy test for and what they have to say. And as for bias, everyone brings bias. I also read this, for instance.

      • 0 avatar

        I check the owners forums before I buy anything to get an idea, yes they tend to lean a little towards I had a problem side rather than I drove 200k w nothing needed but I think it lets me know any weak point and factor that into my decision process

    • 0 avatar

      Isn’t Powers paid by manufacturers?

      That’s why CR is trusted. Actually, the most trusted.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed, especially the IQS report is misleading. Ford suffered a lot because people had a hard time using their infotainment systems. A legitimate complaint but hardly the same as defective or failing parts.

  • avatar

    Quality is why I will never buy a Ford, GM or “Fiat” product. Ever. And J D Powers narrow definition of quality is meaningless, as it always has been. 11 years, 190,000 miles, zero problems. Honda.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Of the 15 or so cars I’ve owned, only 4 were brand new.

    I change brands often. Why?

    – my vehicle needs have changed
    – want more quality
    – want something more interesting

    Twice, I’ve returned to a brand after being burned by change: Ford-Fiat-Ford, Chrysler-Honda-Chrysler.

    I like quality, but I like interesting more. Life’s too short to drive the same car forever, although I did drive a used 85 LeBaron GTS for 12 years.

    In answer to the first question, my most recent new vehicle purchase was a 13 Optima Hybrid, which I got for 25% off MSRP. I needed a more reliable, safe vehicle for my wife, which would be economical to operate and has some style. The overall VALUE won me over.

    Except for the Leaf, I am recently in a Hyundai/Kia rut, although there is a chance I could buy my first Jeep this year.

  • avatar

    I bought a new 2014 Hyundai Elantra about a year ago…….cost me about 19 grand including taxes,tags etc. It has heated seats, satellite radio plus all the normal options. It gets almost 40 mpg on the highway and I’ve had “zero” issues with it so far.

    Why did I buy a Hyundai?

    The ten year powertrain warranty was a factor, plus I think it’s a lot of car for the money.

    Sure it only has 138 horsepower, but I drive less then 5000 miles a year, so theoretically, at my age (55) this should be the last car I have to buy:-)

    • 0 avatar

      You need to add something way more interesting than a Hyundai Elantra to your bucket list.

      That’d be a great topic for TTAC, if you were 55 and had some_dollar_amount to spend on a new car for the rest of your life, what would it be?

    • 0 avatar

      Hm. My Mom (88) was thinking pretty much the same thing when she bought her Elantra. The only big item, and that(I think) was under warranty was the timing belt being changed. I think she’s in an ’07.

  • avatar

    I went back to GM and Chevy in 2004 because of the Impala line. Aside from the fact that I researched the 2000-2005 W-body since late 1999, they turned out to be good cars from company cars to private owners.

    I bought my 2004 Impala in May 2004 and drove it for over 8 years. A co-worker who bought it for his wife still drives it. That car was just as reliable as our 2002 CR-V. No joke, and a lot better vehicle to drive.

    As soon as the 2006 Impala made its debut, I was enticed by the overall cleanness of the body style, and I had to have one. I got my chance in 2012, where I picked up an LTZ-trimmed Impala seriously marked down in July 2012. I haven’t been disappointed, either. It’s a very nice ride and is twice the car of my old one.

    Conclusion: Quality reputation and brand loyalty – I’ve always been a Chevy guy in spite of driving other brands from 1977-2004.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

  • avatar

    This article fits nicely into the zeitgeist of our times and the unblanding (in a heinously artificial way) of the average car, but it doesn’t reflect reality.

    The reality is that consumers are paying $1B per model life cycle to have clean-sheet-designs with the same reliability as their older proven vehicle. Car-buyers are making a major monetary sacrifice to maintain some semblance of reliability. Consumers can say whatever they want, but their dollars speak louder than their words. Furthermore, it’s much too early to say whether the low-reliability strategy by Jeep, Ram, and Nissan will pay off. The last manufacturer to throw away reliability has suffered an historic sales slide.

    The sad part of the story is that manufacturers have two different paths to reliability. Spend $1B on new-vehicle reliability development or make modest changes to old reliable. Sometimes the safety/CAFE regulations make it impossible to employe the latter, but vehicles are a mature technology. Consumers who seek falling real prices should be able to find them.

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    The law of diminishing returns like anything else. The difference between low quality and acceptable quality is a lot farther than acceptable quality and high quality.

  • avatar

    It’s not a black-and-white universe. For the sake of simplicity, you can divide the market into a few basic segments:

    -Those who care about reliability
    -Those who are indifferent to reliability
    -Those who care about reliability on a conditional basis

    For example, someone might care about quality in the abstract, but can’t or won’t pay a premium for it. Others might expect higher quality when buying certain kinds of cars than they would for others (one might tolerate more flaws from a leased luxury car than a purchased family car, for example.)

    Then others may have different perceptions of reliability. You can see example of this in the comments section of this website, with posters who are convinced that BMW’s, VW’s and whatnot are as or more reliable than a Toyota, despite the wealth of statistical evidence that shows otherwise.

    I’m sure that a lot of Nissan buyers believe that their cars will be perfectly reliable, in spite of the mediocrity that is reflected in the data. A referral from a friend or personal experience will mean more to the average person than a survey result, and surely some of those will have had positive experiences.

    • 0 avatar

      “Quality” is not the same thing as “reliability”.


    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      I’m actually indifferent to reliability on a conditional basis but have starting leaning towards caring about conditional reliability on an indifferent basis.

    • 0 avatar

      What Pch101 said. That’s an accurate summary of what buyers are seeking.

      Most of the manufacturers experiencing big gains have been putting some hefty incentives on the hood. A friend bought a new Ram pickup, and I was surprised at the low price he paid for it.

      Also note that, for people with damaged credit (and there are still a fair number of them, even as we crawl out of the recession), the availability of hefty incentives will most likely outweigh reliability concerns.

      • 0 avatar

        Incentives make a big difference; huge discount I snagged on my new Nissan more than compensates for a slightly lower quality rating relative to Honda or Toyota.

        Based on the JD Power data instead of 1.2 problems per year I can expect 1.4; that is a very small price to pay relative to the amount of money I saved.

  • avatar

    Interesting article. The basics for me: owned Acura to Volvo and a dozen cars in between (with some repeat marques) over about 40 years, and none were terrible or ever left me stranded. Mostly, as the editorial said, just faults of the annoying variety. Most new car issues: a Mazda with major rust problems, among other things. Fewest new car issues: two Chrysler products, perhaps amazingly neither of which has had a single issue of any kind after 5 and 4 years of ownership. Even my Acura- bought after owning a less than confidence inspiring but generally reliable Triumph TR7 convertible- didn’t do that. All cars have gotten quite good, so other than maybe an appliance car (to save an enthusiast car from the daily road grind), a new car has to be interesting and fun- no boring cars- for me to consider it.

  • avatar

    Quality does matter. People won’t accept a vehicle that consistently breaks down and they’re definitely not as likely to return to that brand again if they get one. The fact is that even the worst modern cars are significantly more dependable than the ones that the average owner is trading in for the new one. Customer sensitivity to quality hasn’t increased in proportion to the actual increases in quality across the board in the vehicles. Even the worst have acceptable quality for a large number of buyers, this article does a reasonable job of pointing this out.

    Take a look at the VDS numbers from 2005 for example. The worst brand (Kia) had 397 problems per 100 vehicles, more than twice the amount of the worst from the 2014 list. For perspective, Mini’s dead last score of 185 on the 2014 survey would have landed them a 7th place finish in 2005. How far we’ve come.

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly – quality has become an expectation, not a real selling point.

      • 0 avatar

        In the arena of automotive marketing, quality and reliability (like safety) have gone from an “independently marketable category” to something most refer to as “the price of admission.”

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      I’m glad someone is referencing the spread in this data. It is one thing to create a numerical ranking, but if the absolute difference between best and worst is small and shrinking it becomes less relevant.

      • 0 avatar

        Exactly. In 2005, the spread between best and worst was 258 pp/100. In 2014, the spread between even the outlier first place Lexus and last place was only 117. The difference between first and worst is narrow.

  • avatar
    an innocent man

    I wonder how much of long term reliability is self fulfilling prophecy. You buy a Honda and everyone says, “You take care of that thing and it’ll last forever.” So you take care of it, and it lasts forever. But if you buy one of “those” vehicles, everyone knows it’s going to fall apart as soon as the warranty runs out, so why bother?

    • 0 avatar

      The people I know that swear up and down they wouldn’t own anything but a Toyota or a Honda because of “quality” also treat their cars like rolling garbage cans. They simply never, ever, want to spend any money on them beyond maybe an oil change and a new set of Walmart tires when they absolutely can’t get away without changing them.

      There are many more interesting cars out that are fantastically reliable by historical standards, but will require the occasional mechanical intervention or careful maintenance as they age, and life is too short not to drive one.

      “The only thing this proves, McLovin, is that you can take a hit.”

      • 0 avatar

        Rolling garbage cans? You must be a GM employee, the arrogance is strong with this one.

        • 0 avatar

          I think it goes both ways: the stereotype is that people buying new Hondas and Toyotas are often a bit more educated and will take care of their high-resale value vehicle that they might hang onto for 7-10 years. Conversely the deadbeat that barely finances that Avenger will probably go to Jiffy Lube for service, if he remembers to. Again I’m making gross exaggerations and stereotypes to make the argument.

          However people buying used Hondas/Toyotas are often of the “my Hondas is awesome, it never needs any work” persuasion. They too may or may not change the oil on time, are probably sticking off brand ‘Arizonian’ tires on the car, and have loose balljoints and the factory fill of ATF.

          • 0 avatar

            Now you guys are getting into the very interesting area of brand perception. And are seeing how the owners/drivers of any brand of vehicle and their expectations and attitudes result in certain action that influences the performance (reliability) of the product and reputation of the brand. This virtuous circle is what builds and sustains brands like Toyota and Honda.

        • 0 avatar

          “Rolling garbage cans? You must be a GM employee, the arrogance is strong with this one.”

          I think Saul means that the owners treat their cars like a dumpster, not that the cars them selves are garbage.

  • avatar

    …Is that a real album?

  • avatar

    Buyers have begun to assume – rightly – that pretty much any car they buy today will be high quality and reliable.

    So, that’s become an assumption, not a selling point.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I guess that I am old fashioned.

    After owning 4 of their vehicles, I and may family swore off VW’s due to terrible dealership experiences and finally poor quality on the final vehicle.

    After many years with Fords in the driveway we finally gave up on them after a miserable ownership experience with one T-Bird.

    And after owning 4 Caravans and having to replace multiple transmissions we finally stopped buying them, even though my preferred daily driver would still be a mini-van.

    Finally bought Korean after madly following Consumers Reports reviews/reports when they put it on their ‘recommended’ list.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      That’s understandable. Regardless of what the data says, if I get burned by a vehicle I’m not going to return to that brand even if my rational side knows it was an atypical experience. Cars are too expensive and infrequent of a purchase to simply say “Oh well, I’d better try it again to increase my sample size”.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s not that people aren’t abandoning brands when they have a bad experience, it’s that fewer people are having bad experiences even with the lower ranked brands.

  • avatar
    johnny ringo

    Quality and reliability are my two most important items I consider when purchasing a car. Frankly nothing destroys the ownership experience faster than repeated breakdowns and repairs. After owning several GM cars in the 70’s and 80’s and experiencing nothing but trouble, I haven’t driven another GM and probably never will again. Ditto for Chrysler. Looking at CR’s reliability statistics, both manufacturers are near the bottom. I’m on my second Honda and both of them have given me excellent service with very few problems; my next vehicle will probably be another Honda.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    What makes a person buy the car they want to buy.

    This is what the guts of the matter is;

    1. Economic position. How much can I blow.

    2. Peer pressure, ie, what does the dude next door think of my new shiny car, what I’ve seen on the road that I think I’ll look cool in.

    3. Personal preference, ie, do I buy a fully blinged, overpriced sh!twagon, do I buy a more Spartan vehicle that provides driving pleasure, do I buy a vehicle to suit my life.

    3. Environmental and geographic considerations.

    3. Nearby dealerships and access to vehicle maintenance.

    4. Quality and reliability. If people were really concerned about quality they wouldn’t buy Escalades, when a Kia Sorento is put together better and is comfortable, or even a Tahoe. An Escalade purchase can only be driven by perception of quality.

    A Mahindra is a very reliable vehicle mechanically, simple, but yet put together poorly.

    Perception and advertising promoting a perception that one is unique and special buying a particular vehicle is what’s selling along with pricing.

    One could also ask, why is the Camry so popular considering it’s not a shining example technologically, bling wise, etc.

    But, Toyota manage to use the most minimal approach and make it work and satisfy the consumer.

    • 0 avatar

      This actually makes a lot of sense. If quality and reliability aren’t the leading reasons for buying a car what is?

      1) Price, hardly mentioned here, but probably the #1 reason people buy what they do

      2) Image, Ok, I only have “X” amount of dollars to spend what car will make me look the least dorky?

      3) Preferences, Ok, this is what I can afford which one suits my needs the Miata or the CR-V?

      4)Convenience, is there a dealer nearby or do I have to drive 50 miles?

      5) Quality and reliability, once you’ve narrowed it down did your uncle/sister/cousin/friend have one that fell apart?

      Perception trumps reality every time

    • 0 avatar
      an innocent man

      Al, I take a little issue with number 2. I know there are people that buy with that in mind, but do you really think it’s that many? My experience is that it’s just not that large a group. YMMV, I guess.

  • avatar

    “Figures lie, and liars figure” as Twain once said. My BS meter is going off scale, cos everyone I’ve ever met says “quality” before all else. Despite what JD Power and Ghosn might say, quality is still number one for consumers.

  • avatar

    Everyone has different experiences. Two of the worst makes I owned were Honda (Accord Hatchback) and Mitsubishi’s Chrysler works. Had an Audi 5k beater, refused to die. Mixed reviews on my current Ford Taurus (03), but still running well. Had a great Datsun 510, a solid Plymouth Gold Duster (totaled).

  • avatar

    There are a lot of criteria that need to match up for me to buy a car, especially in my current situation.
    First of all, it needs to have room for 2 child seats and a 5’10” teenager in the back. It needs a rear hatch, and foldable rar seats. I need a trailer hitch, and I have to be able to tow a caravan (euro-regulations luckily differ from US). I have a house on top of a steep hill, so in the winter I ‘need’ 4wd to get up, and ABS(and studded tires) to get down in one piece.
    Despite being a Norwegian, I prefer my cars to have at least some horsepower, and I hate diesels. I’m not going offroading, and I hate large and heavy cars, fuel economy should be better than 25 mpg if possible, so an SUV is totally out of the question.
    So, if a car has all of these things covered, and can be had reasonably cheap, I’ll buy it. If I can choose between two cars that are relatively similarly priced, I will choose the one that would be statistically cheaper to run/demands the least maintenace.
    As for quality, reliability beats build quality for me, but I often prefer cars that have cheap parts and are easy to work on because all old cars will break down eventually.
    As for right now, my choice is more or less keep the CR-V or buy another older CR-V, unless I can find a low mileage (hah) C4 body Audi 100/A6 Quatttro Avant with a warranty (double hah)…
    If I were in the market for a non-DD/entusiast car, quality would not be an issue, unless all other criteria for a fun cars was also mathced, so maybe a Hot-Rod (channeled and chopped model A on 32 rails with Desoto Hemi?), or an Integra Type-R?

    • 0 avatar

      Zykotec, I like the way you think. Add up all the issues, find one that is reliable but has cheap parts and is easy to work on. The lowest cost vehicle is usually the one sitting in your garage. And some of the older models have more comfortable seats and better visibility too!

  • avatar

    Quality and reliability are two very different things. Generally, most people expect reliability from their new car purchase and quality within the range of other vehicles for the price. When people expect those things from their cars, then they can concentrate on silly little things like the stereo, rims and such instead of settling for the fact they’ll have to buy an Accord over a Mustang and give up style/power/image because they can’t risk driving an unreliable car.

    The Mercedes-Benz S500 twin turbo plug-in hybrid is a high-quality car and a tour de force of engineering, but who in their right mind would buy one out of warranty or purchase one instead of leasing it? A Mercury Grand Marquis is pretty reliable, but is built like something from the malaise era seeing how it is essentially one with Father Time dutifully hammering the bugs out until its demise in 2011.

    I would argue that the reliability of most 2015 mainstream cars from an established manufacturer should be within reasonable range of competitive 2015 vehicles from other established manufacturers and there’s not much reason for someone to buy a Camry over a Sonata, for instance, only because they wouldn’t trust the Hyundai to get them to work each day.

    While the Germans and FCA US/Italy might be outliers, most people who buy their cars expect more maintenance from the get-go and buy their vehicles for other reasons.

    When even Toyota and Honda, who were the only game in town for a decent compact car 15 years ago are now turning to silly electronic gimmicks, while hamfistedly trying to sell appeal and (questionable) style, even they’ve realized the game has changed.

    My entire family has had a litany of bad experiences with Ford. However, I remember being impressed when Bill Ford hired Alan Mulally and followed Mulally’s career at Ford, thinking I could trust him to deliver. I love the current Focus and pulled the trigger on one last May. I’ve been satisfied with its quality along with reliablity, and would argue hands down it’s not just as good as a Civic or Corolla, but the best car in its class dollar for dollar. I expected the Focus to be reliable (and I haven’t been let down so far), and whatever quality and reliability improvements (if any) I could have got from a Civic or Corolla weren’t enough to remedy their lack of driving dynamics or basic appeal.

  • avatar
    an innocent man

    I haven’t bought a new car in ten years, but may be in the market in the next year. For me it’s a balance of everything:

    Perceived Value

    What Role does it play for us? IOW, if I have a minivan, I want my other vehicle to be something that fills a different role than just people hauler.

    Reliability and Quality, absolutely. I don’t mind some recalls, but I don’t want want to read about any on-road issues.

    Long-term reliability. Can I run it forever if I choose to?

    A big one for me is the Dealer Experience after the sale. Don’t treat me like an idiot, smile while you’re screwing me, don’t play games, and biggest of all, be somewhat competent.

  • avatar

    “Billions and billions of dollars spent on quality control, and the customer loyalty reward is little better than a coin flip.”

    Whoa, not quite.

    Speaking as a math geek, the coin flip you refer to here in between buying the name brand again (49%) or anything else.

    A more accurate model would be to imagine one of those 20-sided D&D dice, weighted so that it reads “buy another damn Toyota” 49% of the time. (I currently own a pair of Toyotas.)

    That’s far more significant than your interpretation would suggest.

    One other thing that wasn’t clear was the exact customer retention question. Is it “did they trade a Ford in for a Ford”? Or did they ask if the customer owned another Ford in the next few years? Those are very different questions, and my intuition is that the second question would have a higher percentage answering ” yes”. I ask because most of the cars I’ve owned have been Fords and Toyotas, with a couple of others thown in for spice. I’ve had good experiences with both brands, but the aging Toyotas I own are currently perfect my needs. I won’t hesitate to buy another Ford (or another Toyota) the moment I have a clear need for one. I’d be very surprised if the statistics discussed in this article are getting at this level of subtlety, much less providing a full model of customer behavior. But I don’t have answers, just questions which can be answered by adding more studies to the picture. :-)

  • avatar

    at the risk of being shot, the interpretation of the above charts and basing that back to ‘quality’ or ‘reliability’ is just stupid.

    look at the range: 70-ish problems/100 cars to 200-ish problems/ 100 cars.

    So on a per car basis, you’re looking at maybe having one problem per car to maybe having 2 problems per car.

    who cares?
    that’s nothing.
    Cars are so reliable these days that we have internet sites complaining about how the consumer value of buying a reliable car these days is dead because more people bought a car with a slightly less statistically insignificant number of problems than that other guy.

    What other meaningless first world problems can we complain about? how to move curved screen TV’s in our GT4 Caymans? and why are curved screens such a big deal anyway? they all used to be curved. That was bad, so we got flat screens. Now curved screens are good again?

    • 0 avatar
      an innocent man

      Maybe Big Freaking Whoop, but it depends what those 1 to 2 problems are. Seal on sliding door comes loose after a year? No biggie. Grand Cherokee stalls at 70MPH in traffic? Biggie.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    One reason people knowingly buy lower quality cars is that they believe bad quality happens to OTHER people, as if we have control over it.

    Such thinking is one reason people smoke.

    Our brilliance in buying a Toyota will be applauded, and we can easily criticize the FCA buyer. But what if the opposite happens, and you get a bad Honda, like I did? Nobody gets that, especially the service manager.

  • avatar
    John R

    “Inversely, the recent success of the brands with iffy quality means that Volkswagen’s sales disaster can’t be traced to reliability woes alone.”

    I would have to disagree. I think VW suffers from a matrix of problems (product missteps and poor marketing included) with perceived reliability and maintenance being the driver.

    Perceived ownership nightmares dogged them well through the 90s let alone 80s. That might be source. In the 90s Honda, Toyota and Nissan cemented their reps earned in the 80s with Mitsu (secret’s out now) and Subbie riding their coattails. Detriot, in the 90s, it could be argued, had the luxury of being the home team and may have been impervious – not VW.

    When you couple those two, non-Japanese reliability and being the non-luxury visiting team, you have your work cut for you.

    If it weren’t for VAG being as massive as it is VW might find itself in the same straits as Volvo and Saab.

    As an aside for some reason, on average,the Japanese seem to wear benign negelct better than VW.

  • avatar

    “Clearly, there is something besides quality that is pulling people into Nissan dealers.”

    I always thought they missed Pontiac – WE BUILD EXCITEMENT!

  • avatar

    Actually there are three measures that are constantly being confused by members of the press and the public, with the result that it’s very difficult to do an assessment of a vehicle based on news reports.

    1) Quality (as used in this context) means correctness of assembly; how high-grade the materials are; whether there are leaks, rattles, squeaks; does the car ride and handle properly; etc.

    2) Reliability means how many unscheduled breakdowns are required. Obviously an unscheduled breakdown of a powered-swiveling AC vent is a lot less significant than a breakdown of the transmission.

    3) Durability means how long things last. It might be how long a wear item lasts (for example, Ford Taurus SHOs of a certain vintage were notorious for chewing up tires); or how long a “consumable” item lasts (you don’t expect a muffler to last as long as the whole car, but stainless lasts longer than aluminized); or how long a subsystem lasts (for example the plastic interiors that are guaranteed to degrade and embrittle with UV light, thus breaking and deteriorating well before the drivetrain gives out, or the inadequately protected steel body panels on certain Mazdas that rust out); or how long the whole thing lasts (and each of us defines when a car is “worn out” differently).

    So for example the JD Powers initial quality rating basically defines initial build quality. The 3 year JD Powers report probably covers primarily 3 year reliability. Consumer Reports reliability database reports longer term reliability (but of course by the time you have data on 7-year reliability, they aren’t making that car anymore).

    In theory “quality” and “reliability” should correlate, but they don’t always do so. In theory “quality” should correlate somewhat more weakly with durability, but again it doesn’t necessarily do so. In my experience reliability and durability are not particularly well correlated.

    This all gets more complicated because there is also a general non technical use of “quality” to encompass all three of the measures I have described above. The specific measures can be quantified, tested, and designed for. Overall “quality” cannot really be.

    I have over 30 years in design and manufacturing engineering of mechanical manufactured products at both high and low volumes, in the automotive and non-automotive fields.

  • avatar

    I used to buy “reliable” used cars – notably from the Japanese big three, two B-Body car, and even a Grand Marquis.

    None ever left me stranded on the road, but (to my surprise) the Honda Accords were the most troublesome of the lot. The Marquis, a Avalon, and a Buick Roadmaster the least troublesome.

    I generally buy a used car every 2-3 years – right now I’m venturing into the Euro camp even after years of fear that I would rack up big repair bills.

    A ’04 BMW 325i has proven to be pretty reliable – so far I replaced a cracked intake tube, had the front bushings done at a shop, and then replaced a rear window regulator myself. It is the base of the base models with a stick shift but is a real joy to drive.

    My other money pit is the wife’s used 2003 Mini Cooper S. It came with a pile of paperwork – work done at a local shop – but so far it has been reliable. Perhaps all the bugs *knock on wood* have been worked out. It’s fun as h*ll to drive though so I give it some leeway when the passenger headlight Xenon light doesn’t always come on. My wife is absolutely crazy for the car, the only one that she has ever driven that gets washed regularly.

  • avatar

    So the moral of the story is, the actual best car at time of issue is a Lexus, and the best car after three years is a Lexus. And there are many people who can put a car together and get it to last a few months (Land Rover and Dodge); but fall to the pits afterward.

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