Are J.D. Power's Most Dependable Vehicles America's Most Popular Vehicles? No. Not Really. Sometimes.

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
Late last month, I determined the extent to which Canadians buy the most reliable vehicles according to automaker-supplied sales figures and J.D. Power’s 2016 Vehicle Dependability Study. In large measure, the vehicles that win their respective categories in J.D. Power’s Study are distinctly unpopular vehicles in Canada. In the United States, the same group of vehicles are notably more common. But does J.D. Power’s VDS, a study which takes into account problems encountered by original owners of MY2013 vehicles over the course of their third year, have a measurable impact on U.S. buying habits?For every piece of evidence that responds in the affirmative — the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang take the top two spots among “midsize sporty cars” and absolutely control the U.S. sporty car market — there’s a corresponding batch of evidence to the contrary. The most popular vehicle in America, Ford’s F-150, ranks sixth in its J.D. Power category, for example.Highlighted here are the five occasions in which J.D. Power’s findings most accurately correlate with America’s collective car-buying tendencies and five other occasions in which J.D. Power’s dependability ratings are not reflected whatsoever by the desirability quotient established by American consumers.THE GOODToyota Sienna – MinivanAlthough two separate FCA van nameplates combine to produce more total minivan sales in America, 2015’s best-selling minivan and the best-selling minivan through the first three months of 2016 was and is the Toyota Sienna.Sienna sales shot to an eight-year high while overall U.S. sales of minivans plunged 8 percent in calendar year 2015. Bizarrely, the two FCA van twins – Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan – which are both built at the same factory in Windsor, Ontario, receive markedly different results in the Vehicle Dependability Study: “Better Than Most” for the Chrysler and a sub-average “The Rest” for the Dodge.
Chevrolet Camaro – Midsize Sporty CarThis study of model year 2013 vehicles placed the Camaro first in its class, ahead of the second-ranked Ford Mustang and third-ranked Dodge Challenger. That was the sales order of these cars for five consecutive years from 2010 and 2014, as well. Not until 2015, when the Mustang was all-new and the all-new Camaro was waiting in the wings, did the Camaro fall into second place in sales. In 2016’s first-quarter, the Mustang earned 47 percent of the trio’s U.S. volume.Buick Encore – Small SUVAmong subcompact crossovers, only the more rugged Jeep Renegade and slightly larger Subaru Crosstrek are selling more often in America this year than the Buick Encore. Awaiting a refresh for model year 2017, Encore volume is up 23 percent in 2016’s first-quarter. Combined, the Encore and its Chevrolet Trax sibling outsell the top-ranked Renegade by nearly three to two.GMC Yukon – Large SUVThe Yukon is not America’s best-selling full-size, body-on-frame, truck-based SUV. But its twin, which receives nearly identical J.D. Power VDS results, is the top dog. Indeed, the third-ranked vehicle in J.D. Power’s results is simply an extended version of the Tahoe, the Chevrolet Suburban. Among volume brands competing in this category, GM owns nearly three-quarters of the market in 2016’s first-quarter.Lexus ES – Compact Premium CarFor starters, the ES is decidedly not compact. But because of its entry-level luxury pricing, the ES is thrust into a group with the BMW 1-Series, Acura ILX, and Lexus CT, along with conventional entry-luxury sports sedans such as the BMW 3-Series and Audi A4. The ES isn’t America’s premium car sales leader — the C-Class and 3-Series are, and they rank ninth and 13th in J.D. Power’s VDS. However, the ES is a major sales player for Lexus. It’s the brand’s second-best-selling model and ranks third among premium brand cars in first-quarter sales.THE BADNissan Murano – Midsize SUVThe Murano, America’s 25th-best-selling utility vehicle overall in 2016’s first-quarter, is on track for its best year ever, selling twice as often in 2016 as in 2013, the subject year for the VDS. But a broader look at the results for “midsize SUVs” reveals two discontinued vehicles (Toyota Venza and Honda Crosstour) in the top five, while the top-selling three-row vehicle in America — the Ford Explorer — ranks 19th in J.D. Power’s results. Even the Toyota Highlander, second in segment sales so far this year, slots in at seventh in J.D. Power’s results.Buick Verano – Compact CarGranted, the Verano’s victory is balanced by second and fourth-place finishes from the two best-selling compact cars in America, the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. But the semi-premium $22,385 Verano’s position atop the VDS compact car leaderboard stands in stark contrast to the Verano’s appeal in the marketplace. Though more popular than the Mitsubishi Lancer, Acura ILX, and Scion iM, Buick sells just one Verano for every three Kia Fortes; one per 11 Civics. Not intended to be GM’s high-volume compact, the Verano is nevertheless an increasingly uncommon car. Verano sales declined in the last two years, falling 30 percent between 2013 and 2015, before 2016’s 9-percent Q1 decline.
Mini Coupe/Roadster – Compact Sporty CarDependable? How about dependably unpopular? BMW doesn’t even bother to build these two-seat Mini variants anymore, having only sold 15,508 Coupes and Roadsters between 2011 and the end of the last quarter. Those are the kinds of sales figures achieved by the category’s next-highest finisher, the Volkswagen Golf GTI, over the span of about eight months.Toyota Tundra – Large Light-Duty PickupIt’s not surprising to see a Toyota ranked first in its class in a vehicle dependability study. But in the real world, a more dependable full-size Toyota truck returns little benefit in a segment where ownership loyalty trumps all. In 2016’s first three months, only 5 percent of America’s full-size truck buyers chose a Tundra. Meanwhile, the most popular truck line in America, the Ford F-Series, saw its F-150 capture sixth place in J.D. Power’s results, behind even the now defunct Chevrolet Avalanche.Chevrolet Malibu – Midsize CarThe 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, three years on, earned the midsize car crown in J.D. Power’s Vehicle Dependability Study. In 2016, the new ninth-generation Chevrolet Malibu reported a 37-percent first-quarter sales increase in a declining segment. But the Malibu at the top of 2016’s VDS was, by the standards of the seventh-generation Malibu, a rather rejected car. Chevrolet averaged 205,000 annual Malibu sales between 2010 and 2012; only 195,000 annual Malibu sales the following three years. That’s not a small difference. Remember, the new vehicle market was 28-percent stronger during the latter three-year period.Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.
Timothy Cain
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  • 55_wrench 55_wrench on Apr 13, 2016

    I learned the hard way not to trust J.D. Power for long term ownership of a car. Here's why: They might look at reams of data, Cpk studies, quality metrics and dealer feedback all they want--or they might not-- but what they are really dealing with is a projected 3 year ownership experience based on a snapshot in time of a brand-spanking new car. What comes to light only over time is how the materials (especially on the inside), will age and degrade, how seat cushions pack down, how clearcoat might fail, how transmission components wear, and how engine components succeed or fail due to thermal cycling. You can try to predict this all you want, but in the end, for buyers like me who don't want to eat the depreciation on a brand new car, I look for value in a 2-4 year old higher-end car with good maintenance history. Two 2001 MY cars I had experience with were a Lesabre and an Avalon. Both built in the States. The Buick at 72K had documented maintenance since new. The Avalon did not, but was gently used in the same family for 123K miles and I needed a comfy and dependable commute (120 miles daily) car for a number of years. Due to engineering, build quality and material selection, those 2 cars could not have been farther apart in quality. The Lesabre was a horrible, uncomfortable, skittishly handling car that ate window regulators like candy and whose dash cover was starting to shrink and pull away from the windshield . I took a serious resale hit just to get rid of it. The Avalon was the complete opposite. Despite having the 3 liter V6 that had a reputation for sludging, mine was pristine under the valve covers at 220K when I sold it (yes, oil changes matter), and it needed only an o2 sensor, brakes, tires and valve cover gaskets for the 100K I drove it. You get better feedback from user forums, but even then you have to separate the fanboys from real-world users who need reliability.

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    • MBella MBella on Apr 13, 2016

      Jd power has basically the same credibility as consumers digest. It's pay to play. They have there initial quality and three year surveys. They then turn around and sell dealers and manufacturers consulting services on how to do good on those surveys. When they come out to do "their " consulting they will give you some meaningless advice such as the placement of your vending machine in relation to the toilets, charge crazy amounts for it, and then you will move up the list. It really has no bearing on anything.

  • Theonlydt Theonlydt on Apr 13, 2016

    The Verano is desperately in need of an update and unfortunately has been left to languish by GM. That it's still only available with the 2.4, which has been superseded by the 2.5 and now a 1.5 turbo is a crying shame. I felt like a mid-life refresh with the 2.5 (a little more power and torque, a little less coarse) and maybe some infotainment upgrades would have kept it more relevant. It's a shame, I actually like the Verano. It's quite, comfortable and "chill". Who cares about rear legroom? It's the perfect suburban commuter.

    • NormSV650 NormSV650 on Apr 15, 2016

      What country only sells the Verano with a 2.4? It has 2.0T for Canada/US.

  • MaintenanceCosts It's not really much of a thought in the buying process. I would think twice about a vehicle assembled in China but other than that I really don't care. Looking at my own history, I've bought six new cars in my lifetime (I don't think choice of used cars says anything at all). I think the most patriotic of them were mostly Japanese brands. (1) Acura, assembled in Japan (2) Honda, assembled in U.S. (3) Pontiac, assembled in Australia (4) Subaru, assembled in U.S. (5) Ford, assembled in U.S. (6) Chevrolet, assembled in Korea
  • ToolGuy News Flash: Canada isn't part of the U.S.
  • Dave M. My Maverick hybrid is my first domestic label ever. It was assembled in Mexico with US components. My Nissan and Subaru were made here, my Toyota, Isuzu and other Nissan had J VINs.
  • ToolGuy "and leaves auto dealers feeling troubled" ...well this is terrible. Won't someone think of the privileged swindlers??
  • ToolGuy "Selling as I got a new car and don't need an extra." ...Well that depends on what new car you chose, doesn't it? 😉
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