Four years out of bankruptcy reorganization, General Motors has risen dramatically up the ranks in one of the auto industry's most respected measures of new vehicle quality.
The company's GMC truck brand jumped to No. 2 among all brands -- just behind Porsche -- for fewest new vehicle problems in the 2013 J.D. Power and Associates' Initial Quality Study. GM's Chevrolet brand rose to fifth in the annual ranking, and its other two brands, Cadillac and Buick, both beat the industry average.
The Chevy brand also took five of the 26 top awards for individual models with best quality vs. other vehicles in the same car or truck market segment based on size, type and price (full ranking of brands and listing of category winners below).
"GM has the best quality of any corporation in industry," says Dave Sargent, J.D. Power's vice president of global automotive. It shows how fast a company with a flawed quality reputation can turn things around. "People were alleging their quality was so bad they deserved to go out of business."
The survey, conducted from February through May, tracks owner complaints about problems in manufacture or design in the first 90 days of ownership and rates brands and models by average problems per 100 vehicles.
GMC marketing head Tony DiSalle was proud of his brand's rise: "Perfecting the customer experience is everything to the GMC brand, from the first visit to the dealership, or drive home, or 10 years down the road. This study demonstrates that the brand is following through on its commitment to quality."
The No. 1 Porsche brand, of course, was proud to beat everyone. "Porsche stands for sportiness and performance," said Matthias Müller, CEO of Porsche AG. "We are pleased to see that our equally high levels of quality in design, development and production have also been confirmed with these awards."
While edged for the top spot by Porsche, GMC even beat Toyota's luxury brand Lexus, a perennial top dog in the quality rankings that ranked third. Toyota's namesake brand, meanwhile, placed a respectable seventh, but in one of the stunners in this year's survey, Toyota's youth-oriented Scion brand sank to dead last.
For the survey's 27th year, J.D. Power has shaken up its process to put emphasis on design problems, not just manufacturing goofs. The ratings company says two thirds of complaints about cars in the first 90 days of ownership are related to design. As a result, only 9% of those problems are presented to dealers for solutions, compared to 28% who take back their cars for a repair.
J.D. Power's new system, which now uses online responses to get more detailed and immediate information, in recent years also has tended to tar automakers on high-tech issues where buyers find complicated systems, such infotainment or navigation, hard to figure out or cumbersome to use Sergeant says.
Toyota spokesman Mike Michels says Lexus' high rank showed the brand has avoided the issues with fancy electronics that dogged some others. He says Lexus has a technology specialist and a delivery specialist at every dealership. The former troubleshoots technology issue, such as phone pairing, while the latter explains to buyers all the high-tech features of their new car.
Michels says Scion fall from grace was driven by out-of-the-gate problems on the new FR-S sports car (sibling to Subaru's BRZ). He says owners complained about engine stalling and condensation in the taillights, issues that since have been solved. Also the car doesn't have a lot of storage space or cupholders, he says.
Owner problems with high technology, continue to dog the Ford brand, which has taken a beating in the rankings in the past three years in large part due to dissatisfaction with its high-tech MyFord Touch infotainment systems. The Ford brand is in the bottom third this year, although its premium Lincoln brand was slightly above the industry average.Ford fired a preemptive strike against the survey results on Monday by announcing that it will add low-tech knobs to its systems' confusing electronic touch controls.
Technology could be helping automakers such as GM, which has emphasized ease-of-use in deploying advanced touchscreen infotainment systems, while punishing others, such as Ford, which have rushed to roll out gee-whiz technology across their lines.
Notably, GMC's second-place finish includes its last-generation 2013 model pickup trucks -- for which GM has had years to work any quality kinks -- but they are being replaced now by an all-new 2014 model. That could threaten its ranking next year.
Sargent, however, says the GM has had a wholesale change in philosophy and no longer rolls out new models with initial quirks it knows will need fixing. Now , he says, GM is building in quality from the start.
While GMC was GM's top brand overall, its mainstream Chevy badge the clear winner this year in model segment wins or ties with its Avalanche, Camaro, Impala, Silverado HD and Tahoe. Next highest in model wins came Honda, Kia, Mazda and Porsche, each with two. Here are the full brand and model segment results:
Average problems per 100 vehicles of whole line:
- Porsche 80
- GMC 90
- Lexus 94
- Infiniti 95
- Chevrolet 97
- Acura 102
- Toyota 102
- Honda 103
- Jaguar 104
- Hyundai 106
- Kia 106
- Mercedes-Benz 106
- Audi 108
- Cadillac 108
- Buick 109
- Chrysler 109
- Lincoln 113
- INDUSTRY AVERAGE 113
- BMW 114
- Volvo 114
- Smart 115
- Land Rover 116
- Jeep 118
- Volkswagen 120
- Mazda 125
- Subaru 128
- Dodge 130
- Ford 131
- Ram 132
- Mini 135
- Nissan 142
- Mitsubishi 148
- Fiat 154
- Scion 161