South Korean, rather than Japanese automakers now build the most reliable vehicles, according to a new study by J.D. Power, and domestic brands, especially those from General Motors, are proving more dependable than those from longtime stalwarts like Honda and Nissan.
Kia was the top brand in the 2022 J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study, with South Korean siblings Hyundai and Genesis ranking third and fourth, respectively.
But GM’s Buick came in second, while Cadillac and Chevrolet were also in the top 10, and GMC scored above industry average. Only Toyota and Lexus made it into the top 10, and most of the rest of the Japanese marques scored below average in terms of customer complaints.
The study, known as the VDS, revealed a number of surprises, including the fact that mainstream vehicles now have fewer problems than luxury brands.
One of the reasons is that high-line marques tend to feature more technology. And that’s a concern. Infotainment systems alone were the single biggest source of problems reported by the owners Power surveyed about their three-year-old vehicles.
Impact on the brands
For brands like Land Rover, Ram, Volvo and Alfa Romeo — which, in ascending order, anchored the study — more problems usually means less owner loyalty. In turn, that translates into a lower likelihood that owners will trade in on the same brand.
“Many owners are holding on to their vehicles longer, so long-term dependability is even more critical,” said David Amodeo, director of global automotive at J.D. Power.
The study shows that the gap between the best and worst brands is significant, according to Amodeo.
Kia owners reported an average 145 problems for every 100 vehicles included in the survey. In Power-speak, that is read “145 PP100.” By comparison, bottom-ranked Land Rover had nearly twice the reported complaints, at 284 PP 100.
The industry average for the vehicles covered in the 2022 Vehicle Dependability Study was 192 problems per 100. What was also surprising was the fact that mainstream brands, such as Kia, Toyota and Chevrolet, outscored luxury marques like Lexus, Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz — by an average 190 versus 204 PP100.
And there appears to be one key reason: the amount of digital technology they use.
“Some automakers are performing much better than others at preventing problems from occurring,” said Amodeo.
“These problems include the vehicle’s mechanicals, exterior and interior — but also infotainment systems, driver assistance systems and all the other electronic systems in today’s vehicles.”
What to do about the tech dilemma?
Automakers face a conundrum: customers are demanding more and more high-tech features. But digital technology today has a higher propensity to fail than conventional mechanical systems like engines and transmissions. Infotainment systems were the single biggest source of owner complaints, according to the 2022 VDS, at an average 51.9 problems for every 100 vehicles.
Built-in voice recognition systems topped the list of problem technologies, though issues with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as Bluetooth connectivity, also created large numbers of complaints.
The rise of the Korean carmakers might have seemed impossible a couple decades ago when Kia and Hyundai were known for “cheap-and-cheerful” products — a euphemism for inexpensive and low quality.
Those brands, along with Hyundai’s luxury spinoff Genesis, have spent billions of dollars to address quality concerns, something the new dependability study shows is paying off. And it’s been reflected in rising sales.
Detroit automakers long suffered from quality and reliability problems but have, in recent years, begun making progress. That’s underscored by the strong showing of GM brands, all of which came in above average.
After suffering quality problems in recent years, Ford and its luxury sibling Lincoln both came in above average.
The results were more mixed for Stellantis — the global giant formed by last year’s merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and France’s PSA Group. Dodge was ranked eighth overall, but all its sibling brands came in below average, Ram the second-lowest model in the new study.
Likewise, Europeans were a mixed bag. Porsche was the only marque in the top 10 – and its iconic 911 sports car was the single-highest-ranked vehicle of all models included in the VDS. But Mini and BMW were the only other Europeans to come in above average, with Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Jaguar, Volvo, Alfa and Land Rover weighing the industry down.
The real question is what has happened to the Japanese. For years, they led the industry. Toyota and Lexus are still strong on quality and reliability, at fifth and sixth rankings. But, among the rest, only two small brands, Mazda and Mitsubishi, were able to do better than industry average. And Acura was buried in the bottom five.