Retired Toronto Beach resident Karl Nicholson was looking forward to receiving his brand-new Genesis GV70 sport utility after a predictably long wait – but he wasn’t prepared for the letter that preceded its arrival.
“(We are) optimizing microchip usage in select Genesis models so that our guests can get behind the wheel as soon as possible,” the letter read. “While vehicles were previously specified to include Highway Driving Assist II, this has had to be replaced with Highway Driving Assist.”
Essentially, Genesis downgraded Nicholson’s SUV with fewer high-tech features, such as lane-change assistance, in an effort to save microchips.
“The letter stated that my Genesis Experience Manager could explain my options regarding the revised specifications,” Nicholson says. He was hoping to negotiate a nominal discount or even free floor mats – but no such luck. “They told me my options were: ‘Take it or leave it.’”
Nicholson took delivery of his sport ute in April, and while he’s more than happy with its performance and comfort, the dealership has been disappointing. Nicholson admits he’s “not overly tech savvy,” but when his at-home demonstration of the GV70’s controls was cut short, the promised follow-up lesson never happened.
“My rep never found the time to complete my orientation,” he recalls. “I had to resort to watching YouTube videos to learn about my car’s complicated controls and menus.”
Nicholson’s unsatisfactory ownership experience is not so uncommon these days.
J.D. Power’s 2022 U.S. Initial Quality Study (IQS) reveals ongoing upheaval caused by the pandemic, including supply-chain issues and long delivery delays, contributed to new-vehicle complaints reaching a record high in the research firm’s latest benchmark study.
Compared with last year’s IQS – which surveys owners of new vehicles 90 days after purchase – the auto industry experienced an 11 per cent increase in problems per 100 vehicles (PP100), with an industry average of 180 PP100. The average was just 93 PP100 in pre-pandemic 2019. Only nine of 33 ranked brands improved in initial vehicle quality this year.
“Given the many challenges automakers and their dealers had to face in the past year, it’s somewhat surprising that initial quality didn’t fall even more dramatically,” says David Amodeo, director of global automotive at J.D. Power.
“Supply chain disruption, especially the shortage of microchips, has caused automakers to seek alternative solutions to get new vehicles into purchasers’ and lessees’ hands,” he adds. “In some cases, new vehicles are being shipped without some features installed. Communication with them about the changes in feature availability, as well as when such features will be reinstated, is critical to their satisfaction.”
Now in its 36th year, the IQS surveyed 84,165 U.S. purchasers and lessees of new 2022 model-year vehicles. The study is based on a 223-question survey organized into nine categories: infotainment; features, controls and displays; exterior; driving assistance; interior; powertrain; seats; driving experience; and climate. The study is designed to provide manufacturers with robust data to guide product quality improvements.
So who ranked on top in terms of initial quality? Surprisingly, the top three automotive brands were all domestic: Buick, Dodge and Chevrolet, with Genesis coming fourth as the first-ranked premium brand, followed by Kia, which has dominated the ratings in the recent past.
J.D. Power points out that “mass market” brands like Chevrolet and Kia average 175 PP100, while premium (luxury) brands are 12 per cent more troublesome, as a segment, at 196 PP100. Luxury brand buyers typically have more technology in their vehicles and the added complexity increases the likelihood of headaches.
The numbers bear that out at the other end of the spectrum, where expensive luxury brands congregate in the basement of the rankings. Chrysler – which only sells the Ontario-built 300 sedan and Pacifica minivan – had the highest score at 265 PP100, followed by Volvo (256), Maserati (255), Audi (239) and Volkswagen (230) all accumulating more issues than the study average of 180 problems per 100 vehicles. A higher PP100 score is equated with lower quality and poorer ranking.
The most unexpected survey result may be this: Battery-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) are more problematic than conventional gasoline-powered vehicles (240 PP100 for electric versus 173 for gasoline) at least in initial quality. Volvo’s all-electric Polestar brand was the worst performer at 328 problems per 100 vehicles.
J.D. Power notes Tesla models average 226 PP100 and are calculated separately from the electric-car average because the predominance of Tesla vehicles could obscure the performance of electric models made by legacy automakers such as Ford and Chevrolet.
Auto shoppers looking for affordable, quality buys may want to look at the Kia Rio and Forte, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Malibu and Equinox, Nissan Murano, Toyota 4Runner and Chevrolet Silverado pickup – all IQS top-rated models in their segments.
Still, consumers ought to take the IQS results with a grain of salt, since the survey tallies problems after just 90 days of ownership. The study may reveal more about design and software hiccups – such as fussy Bluetooth connections – than it does about product quality. For that, consumers should pay closer attention to J.D. Power’s Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS)
, released every February.
VDS provides a more in-depth examination of the vehicle-owner relationship after three years, which typically documents more serious quality issues, such as poor-performing transmissions. In this year’s VDS, Kia ranks highest in vehicle dependability with a score of 145 PP100, followed by Buick (147 PP100), Hyundai (148), Genesis (155), Toyota (158), Lexus (159) and Porsche (162).
In addition to examining the quality of automobiles and light trucks, J.D. Power measures assembly line quality in those plants that build U.S.-bound vehicles. General Motors’ plant in San Luis-Potosi, Mexico, which produces the Chevrolet Equinox and the GMC Terrain SUVs, received the Platinum Plant Quality Award as the best in the world.
Canada’s assembly lines ranked high in the ratings, as well. Honda’s plant number 2 in Alliston, Ontario, earned a silver award for its assembly quality of the Honda CR-V compact crossover. GM’s CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, which also produces the Chevrolet Equinox, earned a bronze award.