There's no surprise that Toyota's Lexus brand once again tops the J.D. Power study of quality among three-year-old vehicles, a position it's held in seven out of the last 10 years and a touchstone of its appeal to its American customers. What's more surprising in the annual report out today: Redesigned models held up better than carryover ones, domestic brands closed the gap with imports, and many buyers are willing to live with worse-than-average reliability for the right vehicle.
|J.D. Power 2013 Vehicle Dependability Survey|
|Brand||Problems per 100 vehicles (2010)|
The 2013 edition of J.D. Power's Vehicle Dependability Survey queried 37,000 owners about cars, trucks and SUVs bought in the 2010 model year. Overall, problems per 100 vehicles fell 5 percent to 126, with 21 of 31 brands tracked by J.D. Power reporting improvements in quality.
While previous surveys have confirmed the old truism that brand-new models suffer more problems, that wasn't true in 2010; models launched or redesigned that year had better quality than average. Domestic brands from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler averaged 133 problems per 100 vehicles, while import brands averaged 123 — a gap that has slowly shrunk over the past few years. After Lexus, the other top five brands were Porsche, Lincoln, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz; Chrysler's new-ish Ram brand showed the largest improvement, dropping its problem reports to 122 per 100 vehicles, just behind Acura.
As J.D. Power notes, and common sense would suggest, owners who suffer more problems with their vehicles are less likely to buy from that brand again in the future. But the brands that lagged behind the rest of the industry don't seem to be hurting; the worst performer, Land Rover, had a record sales year in 2012, even though its often dinged in quality surveys and trailed the pack in J.D. Power's results with 220 problems per 100. Of the bottom five brands, only Mitsubishi struggles with American customers; Dodge, Jeep and Volkswagen — whose quality grew worse by five issues per 100 cars in this year's results — have seen sales rise faster than the rest of the industry.
The downside will ultimately fall on shoppers in the used-car market. The 2010 Lexus RX300's ranking as the most durable vehicle of its year will keep it in demand almost regardless of miles. For those kicking tires on brands from the lower end of J.D. Power's scale, it's worth doing some extra homework.