Report: Detroit Automakers See Best-ever Performance on J.D. Power’s 2020 Initial Quality Study

J.D. Power in Troy released its 2020 Initial Quality Study on Wednesday, which offers a look at the problems owners are having with their new vehicles. The study was redesigned this year and measures components that fail and features that are difficult to use, hard to understand, or don’t work the way owners want.
Dodge vehicles
Dodge scored a 136 on J.D. Power’s 2020 Initial Quality Study, which measures new vehicle owners’ car complaints. The industry average was 166, and lower scores reflect fewer problems. // Photo courtesy of Dodge

J.D. Power in Troy released its 2020 Initial Quality Study on Wednesday, which offers a look at the problems owners are having with their new vehicles. The study was redesigned this year and measures components that fail and features that are difficult to use, hard to understand, or don’t work the way owners want.

“The Initial Quality Study is the industry benchmark for new-vehicle quality and, year after year, automakers apply the insights they learn from consumers to make positive changes,” says Dave Sargent, vice president of automotive quality at J.D. Power. “The higher problem levels we see in this year’s study don’t mean vehicle quality has worsened; rather, the redesigned study asks additional questions that allow owners to cite more of the problems that they are experiencing.”

The study is in its 34th year and examines the problems experienced by owners of new 2020 model-year vehicles during the first 90 days of ownership. Initial quality is determined by the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles. A lower score reflects higher quality.

Most domestic brands are above average. Seven domestic brands – Dodge (136), Chevrolet (141), Ram (141), Buick (150), GMC (151), Jeep (155), and Cadillac (162) performed better than the overall industry average of 166. Collectively, this is the best-ever performance by the Detroit automakers when compared with imported brands in the history of the study.

Most premium brands are below average. For most of the past decade, mass market brands have improved relative to premium brands, and the trend continues this year. Premium brands generally equip their vehicles with more complex technology, which can cause problems for owners. Genesis (142), Lexus (159), and Cadillac (162) are the premium brands that performed better than the industry average.

Japanese brands did not regain their footing. Once regarded as the gold standard in quality, most Japanese brands have not improved as fast as competitors and continue to trail most Korean and domestic brands. Mitsubishi (148), Lexus (159), and Nissan (161) are the Japanese brands that ranked above industry average.

“W. Edwards Deming said, ‘Quality is to fulfill the requirements of customers and satisfy them,’ and Japanese automakers excelled at this for quite some time,” Sargent says. “But some other automakers have surpassed them in recent years by understanding better what quality means for today’s owners.”

Tesla was profiled for the first time and received an initial quality score of 250. The automaker is not officially ranked among other brands in the study as it doesn’t meet ranking criteria.

“Unlike other manufacturers, Tesla doesn’t grant us permission to survey its owners in 15 states where it is required,” says Doug Betts, president of the automotive division at J.D. Power. “However, we were able to collect a large enough sample of surveys from owners in the other 35 states and, from that base, we calculated Tesla’s score.”

Infotainment is the most problematic category, accounting for almost one-fourth of all problems cited by owners. Top complaints include built-in voice recognition, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay connectivity, touchscreens, built-in navigation systems, and Bluetooth connectivity.

Chevrolet Sonic achieved the best score of any model this year at 103.

The Jaguar E-Pace is the first Jaguar model to earn an IQS award, with a score of 159.

“Initial quality is critical to the overall new-vehicle ownership experience,” Sargent says. “In the next few weeks, we will complete the picture by providing results from the J.D. Power APEAL Study, which measures the positive experiences customers have from owning and driving their new vehicle, and the J.D. Power TXI Study, which measures how well automakers are introducing all-new technology into their vehicles. Successful manufacturers will examine all these areas as they strive to design and build even better vehicles.”

Dodge and Kia tied for highest in overall initial quality, each with a score of 136. Dodge is the first domestic brand in the study’s history to rank highest. This is the sixth consecutive year that Kia is the highest-ranked mass market brand. Chevrolet and Ram place third in a tie (141). Genesis is the highest ranked premium brand for the fourth consecutive year in the study.

The parent corporation receiving the most model-level awards is Hyundai Motor Group (seven awards), General Motors Co. (six) BMW AG (three), Ford Motor Co. (three), Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. (three), and Toyota Motor Corp. (two). Among brands, Cadillac and Kia each received four awards.

  • Hyundai models that rank highest in their respective segments are Genesis G70, Hyundai Tucson, Hyundai Veloster, Kia Forte, Kia Sedona, Kia Sorento, and Kia Soul.
  • GM models that rank highest in their segments are Cadillac CT5, Cadillac CT6, Cadillac Escalade, Cadillac XT4, Chevrolet Malibu, and Chevrolet Sonic.
  • BMW AG models that rank highest in their segments are BMW 8 Series, BMW X6, and MINI Cooper.
  • Ford models that rank highest in their segments are Ford Mustang, Ford Ranger, and Ford Super Duty.
  • Nissan that rank highest in their segments are Nissan Armada, Nissan Maxima, and Nissan Murano.
  • Toyota models that rank highest in their segments are Lexus GX and Toyota Tundra.

Other models that rank highest in their respective segments are Audi A3 and Jaguar E-Pace.

GM’s Yantai Dongyue 2 plant in China, which produces the Buick Envision, received the Platinum Plant Quality Award for producing vehicles with the fewest defects or malfunctions. Plant quality awards are based solely on defects and malfunctions and exclude design-related problems.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Toluca plant in Mexico, which produces the Dodge Journey and Jeep Compass, and Toyota’s TMMT plant in Turkey, which produces the Toyota C-HR, received the Gold Plant Quality Award for the Americas and Europe/Africa regions, respectively.

“The fact that the top plants in each region are outside of the traditional areas of the U.S., Canada, Germany, Japan, and Korea is a sign of just how global the auto industry has become,” Betts says. “China and Turkey have been represented in the study for less than 10 years, so to say this achievement is impressive is an understatement.”

The study is based on responses from 87,282 purchasers and lessees of new 2020 model-year vehicles who were surveyed after 90 days of ownership. The study, which provides manufacturers with information to identify of problems and drive product improvement, was fielded from February-May.

The 2020 redesign marks the fifth generation of the study, which is now based on a 223-question battery organized into nine vehicle categories: infotainment; features, controls, and displays; exterior; driving assistance (new for this year); interior; powertrain; seats; driving experience; and climate.

Information on vehicle quality as well as model photos and specs is available here. More information on the study is available here.

J.D. Power was established in 1968 and has offices serving North America, Asia Pacific, and Europe.

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