The new J.D. Power ratings
for long-term vehicle dependability are out. These ratings reflect the experiences of more than 50,000 people who bought a new car in 2002 and have since been driving it, living with it, and paying for it. They tell the real story, and this is how it reads.
Overall, the car industry made a nice 12 percent improvement in long-term quality. It's a solid increase, but this gain doesn't surprise me; cars are amazingly dependable and civilized today. As a guy who owns several decade-old cars, I'm frequently reminded how--not long ago--we used to drive some really inconvenient, unreliable machines.
As usual, Lexus was far and away the leader in long-term dependability, as it has been for 11 years straight. The company's record speaks for itself: 139 problems per 100 vehicles over the three-year window. This is amazing and well below the industry average of 237 problems per 100 cars. And its big car, the Lexus LS430, is the first to come in below 100 problems per 100 cars, with a score of 90. That means there is a fair percentage of 2002 LS430s out there that have had no problems in three years of driving. None. This is a big part of why Lexus is the most impressive car company in the world.
GM and Ford topped a record number of lists, which proves that quality isn't holding these companies back as they struggle to get their houses in order. American cars are good cars (we won't talk about market position issues), and hats off to Ford and GM for having product lines that dwarf the entire Asian car industry. Chevy, for example, won the most top awards by segment, scoring big with the Prizm (compact car), the Malibu (entry midsize car), the S-10 Pickup (midsize pickup), and the Silverado HD (heavy-duty full-size pickup). Ford topped the entry luxury car, midsize van, and full-size van segments with, respectively, the Thunderbird, the Windstar, and the E-Series.
As for German cars, well it's a good thing the public catches on slowly. The CEO of Mercedes-Benz, Jurgen Schrempp, spends an unpleasant amount of time apologizing for the bugginess of its cars, and Porsche's main honor in the latest J.D. Power numbers is that it made the biggest improvement in quality over last year, up to number two overall. Nice recovery, especially considering that the "most improved" honor usually underlines the fact that a car line needed improving. Blame the Cayenne, I understand.
You have the answer for someone who wants to bike to work? What is it?
Keep an eye on Hyundai, which is coming on stronger than Liz Taylor's perfume. The company is still slightly below the average quality level for the industry overall but reduced its reported problems by 115 per 100 cars, a 31 percent boost. Add to that the recent news that Hyundai made a similar leap in J.D. Power's Initial Quality scores and you can see a company that is the Samsung of the car business: smart, aggressive, and focused on winning despite early and expensive setbacks in the U.S. market. I eagerly await its new Azera.
Cars have only gotten better since the 2002 model year covered in this survey, and frankly, you just about have to crash a late-model car these days put them completely out of commission. It's a testament to the technology, both in the car and in the process that built it. I salute an industry that deals with far more regulation than the PC industry and far cheaper customers than the commercial jet industry, yet isn't far behind either of those two in terms of delivering a fundamentally better product than it did just a few years ago.