Report: Vehicle Dependability at All-time High

Vehicle dependability is at an all-time high, with the overall level of problems cited by owners declining 10 percent from a year ago, according to the 2021 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study by Troy’s J.D. Power.
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Kia vehicles
Kia cars are some of the most dependable, with owners of 2018 vehicles reporting the fewest problems, according to J.D. Power. Pictured are current Kia models. // Photo courtesy of Kia Motors America

Vehicle dependability is at an all-time high, with the overall level of problems cited by owners declining 10 percent from a year ago, according to the 2021 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study by Troy’s J.D. Power.

“The study results validate what we have known for some time,” says Dave Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power. “Automakers are making increasingly dependable vehicles — but there are still some problem areas that need to be addressed and some warning signs on the horizon.”

The study measures the number of problems per 100 (PP100) vehicles experienced during the past 12 months by original owners of 3-year-old vehicles. A lower score reflects higher dependability, and the study covers 177 problems grouped into eight major vehicle categories:

  • Audio, communication, entertainment, and navigation
  • Engine and transmission
  • Exterior
  • Interior
  • Features, controls, and displays
  • Driving experience
  • Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning
  • Seats

The study is in its 32nd year.

The 2018 model-year vehicles measured in this year’s study were first examined in the J.D. Power 2018 U.S. Initial Quality Study, when new-vehicle quality had improved for the fourth consecutive year and reached its best level ever. Of the 10 brands that ranked highest in the 2018 study, six also appear among the ten highest ranked in the 2021 study.

“Today’s three-year-old vehicles are of higher quality and more dependable than in previous years,” Sargent says. “Most owners aren’t experiencing their vehicles breaking down or falling apart but, for many, vehicle technology continues to function poorly or inconsistently. If an owner can’t rely on a system to work as they expect, it is also considered a lack of dependability. It affects their overall view of the vehicle and their likelihood of staying loyal to their automaker. In the future, dependability will partially be determined by the ability to solve problems through vehicle updates and the avoidance of technology obsolescence.”

Following are key findings of the 2021 study:

  • The industry average is 121 PP100, the lowest in the study’s history and a 13 PP100 (10 percent) improvement from 134 PP100 in 2020. This is a much greater rate of improvement than in the past two years, which had improvements of 2 PP100 and 6 PP100, respectively.
  • Cars continue to be the segment with the most dependable vehicles, averaging 111 PP100, while trucks average 130 PP100 and SUVs average 122 PP100. Trucks and SUVs account for about 80 percent of retail sales each month.
  • Owners of Asian brand vehicles experience the fewest problems – 115 PP100 – compared with domestic brands – 126 PP100 – and European brands – 131 PP100. This gap is due in part to Korean brands Kia, Hyundai, and Genesis which, when combined, average 99 PP100 and represent a 19-point gap versus the Japanese brands (collectively 118 PP100).
  • All eight problem categories have improved this year, led by exterior (3.7 PP100) and driving experience (2.2 PP100). Audio, communication, entertainment, and navigation shows marginal improvement and remains the category with the most problems reported. Sargent says it is common for owners to have problems with these systems, and many use their smart phones instead of built-in systems.
  • The Porsche 911 is the highest-ranked model in the 2021 study. It is the second time in three years it has been named most dependable model.
  • Tesla was profiled for the first time and received a score of 176 PP100. The automaker is not officially ranked among other brands in the study because it doesn’t meet the ranking criteria; unlike other manufacturers, Tesla doesn’t grant J.D. Power permission to survey its owners in 15 states where it is required. However, Tesla’s score was calculated based on a sample of surveys from owners in the other 35 states.

Lexus ranks highest in overall vehicle dependability among all brands with a score of 81 PP100. This is the ninth time in 10 years that Lexus ranks highest. Porsche (86 PP100) ranks second, followed by Kia (97 PP100), Toyota (98 PP100), Buick (100 PP100), and Cadillac (100 PP100).

Kia shows considerable improvement with a reduction of 35 PP100 from 2020. This is also the first time Kia ranks highest overall among mass market brands. Other brands above industry average showing the greatest improvement in PP100 are Cadillac, Acura, and Hyundai (all by 31 PP100), and Mitsubishi (by 30 PP100).

Toyota Motor Corp. received five segment awards for the Lexus ES, Lexus GX, Toyota Avalon, Toyota Sienna, and Toyota Tundra.

General Motors Co. received four segment awards for the Buick Envision, Chevrolet Camaro, Chevrolet Silverado HD, and Chevrolet Tahoe.

Hyundai Motor Group also received four segment awards for the Genesis G80, Kia Optima, Kia Sorento, and Kia Sportage.

Chevrolet, Kia, and Toyota each received three segment awards, the most among all brands in the study.

The study is based on responses from 33,251 original owners of 2018 model-year vehicles after three years of ownership. It was fielded from July-November 2020.

The Consumer Ratings featured on JDPower.com are generated using data from verified owners who have participated in J.D. Power automotive studies including U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study; U.S. Customer Service Index Study; U.S. Initial Quality Study; U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution, and Layout Study; and U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index Study.

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