Facing a digital display that wouldn’t look out of place in an Airbus cockpit, some motorists are challenging the notion that cars today are only getting better.
The sophisticated gadgetry requires you to find a co-pilot to help you drive the car, the owner of a 2013 Ford Edge grumbled online about his MyFord Touch interface — the centrepiece of the crossover’s high-tech arsenal.
“I found the excessive screens and the operation of the stereo, heater and air to be incredibly hard to learn and then operate while driving. My 12-year-old had to assist me throughout the drive,” reads the diatribe.
As automakers race to put the latest digital entertainment and communication gear in front of drivers, they have unwittingly introduced new headaches, too.
Advanced technology continues to impact dependability negatively, according to the 2016 Vehicle Dependability Survey compiled by market research firm J.D. Power. This year’s iteration documents the problems experienced by 33,560 original owners of 2013 model-year vehicles in the U.S.
Fussy communications — drivers zeroed in on Bluetooth connectivity and voice recognition issues — as well as entertainment and navigation systems have become the most problematic area, the impetus for the industry’s 3 per cent decline in dependability scores compared to last year. Prior to 2014, the auto industry had been making steady gains in dependability.
“Usability problems that customers reported during their first 90 days of ownership are still bothering them three years later in ever-higher numbers,” said Renee Stephens, J.D. Power’s vice president of U.S. automotive.
“At the same time, the penetration of these features has increased year over year.”
It doesn’t bode well for the fully autonomous vehicles that are coming down the road when consumers can’t rely on their present car to connect reliably to their smartphone.
“If you think about the technology problems from the study in the context of conversations around autonomous vehicles, the industry clearly has more work to do to secure the trust of consumers,” Stephens warned.
Reliability concerns extend well beyond electronics.
J.D. Power notes that more than half of the owners in the study cite expected reliability as one of the most influential reasons for choosing a make and model. Only one-third of owners who had to replace a component outside of normal wear items said they would definitely purchase the same brand again.
J.D. Power determines dependability by the number of reported problems per 100 vehicles (PP100), with a lower score indicating higher quality. The industry average is 152 PP100 this year, compared with 147 PP100 in the 2015 study.
Surprisingly, perhaps, seven of the top 10 problems are design-related — Ford’s finicky MyFord Touch driver interface is one example — while the number of engine and transmission problems decreased to 24 PP100 in 2016 from 26 PP100 in 2015.
The California-based research company redesigned its seminal study and moved it online last year. There are more questions about onboard technology, such as blind-spot sensors, that weren¹t widely available eight years ago — the last time the survey was overhauled.
For the fifth year in a row, Lexus was the most reliable brand in the 2016 study with a PP100 score of 95. Porsche followed in second place with 97, lifting the sports-car maker up four rank positions compared to last year.
General Motors’ Buick division followed in third with 106 PP100, followed by Toyota (113) and GMC with 120 PP100.
In addition to Porsche, other notable ranking improvements include BMW, Ram, Fiat and Infiniti, which all moved up six rank positions compared to the 2015 results, as well as Hyundai, (up 8 positions), Volvo (up 9) and Mini (up 11).
At the other end of the dependability rankings, Dodge ranked the lowest with 208 problems per 100 vehicles. Ford finished immediately above its Detroit rival with a PP100 score of 204. Rounding out the bottom five were Smart (199 PP100), Land Rover (198) and Jeep (181).
Fast-falling brands in this year’s dependability study include Toyota’s youth-oriented Scion brand, which plummeted 14 ranking positions; Nissan, which lost 13 positions, as well as Cadillac (-10) and Ford (-5).
How the brands rate from year to year can be impacted by newly introduced models and others that have neared the end of their product cycle. The first year of a model¹s new generation may suffer from production glitches, while later model years may present fewer mechanical problems.
In addition to ranking 32 automotive brands (Jaguar had too few U.S. sales in 2013), J.D. Power drilled down and identified the most dependable models in each of 19 auto and truck segments, encompassing everything from small cars to heavy-duty pickups.
General Motors earned eight segment awards for its Buick Encore, LaCrosse and Verano; Chevrolet Camaro, Equinox, Malibu, Silverado HD pickup and GMC Yukon.
Toyota garnered six segment wins for its Lexus ES, GS and GX, and Toyota Prius V, Sienna and Tundra pickup, while Mercedes-Benz earned one category win for its GLK-Class compact SUV, as did the Honda Fit, Fiat 500, Mini Cooper and Nissan Murano.
2016 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study Ranking by Nameplate