New-Car Quality Dips as Consumers Struggle With Higher Tech

June 19, 2019
The industry average stayed flat in this year’s Initial Quality Study at 93 problems per 100 vehicles, which marks the first year of zero improvement since 2014.

New-car owners are indicating more problems with the very technology meant to help them better navigate the roads.

Advanced driver assistance systems have become more widespread but are growing increasingly complex and troublesome for car owners, J.D. Power found in an annual survey on the first 90 days of car ownership. The newfangled systems befuddling car buyers include lane departure warning, blind spot detection, collision avoidance systems and other safety-minded innovations.

“Consumers are sometimes confused as to whether they’re on or not -- or confused about how to set them,” Dave Sargent, vice president of global automotive research at J.D. Power, said of the systems.

J.D. Power, a market research unit of London-based XIO Group, expects those complaints to recede as consumers become more familiar with the technology. “We don’t want to raise a big safety flag because, for the most part, it’s not that the systems aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do,” Sargent said.

The industry average stayed flat in this year’s Initial Quality Study at 93 problems per 100 vehicles, which marks the first year of zero improvement since 2014. More brands declined than improved over the past 12 months, with 18 worsening and 13 moving up.

In addition to issues with new technology, J.D. Power said an uptick in traditional problems is also to blame for the lack of improvement -- including brake and suspension noises, engines not starting, early “check engine” signs and paint imperfections.

Korean auto conglomerate Hyundai Motor Group’s Genesis, Kia and Hyundai brands rank above the rest in terms of initial quality. The trio snagged the top three spots, in that order, for a second year in a row.

“They have become very adept at understanding what American consumers want and what they don’t want and delivering just enough,” Sargent said of Hyundai Motor Group. The Korean automaker tends to outfit its vehicles with bare bones technology, whereas European automakers “are stuffing their vehicles full of technology, which people want and find appealing, but with that comes the possibility of having some problems,” he said.

All 10 European brands ranked below the industry average this year.

Several Detroit brands fared better than Japanese peers as Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln and Ford nameplates placed together in the top five for the first time ever, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s Dodge secured its highest ranking ever, at No. 8. General Motors Co.’s Chevrolet and Buick also placed above average.

Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp. is doing well relative to last year, Sargent said, but still isn’t performing as well as it did 15 years ago. Smaller rival Honda Motor Co. fared below average. The namesake brands of Tata Motors Ltd.’s Jaguar Land Rover unit ranked last among those surveyed, as they did last year.

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