More tech, moreproblems. That could describe many situations in which the universe finds itself these days. In this case, it’s the takeaway from this year’s edition of the vehicle quality survey from the market analytics company JD Power, the first to rank the quality of Tesla’svehicles.
The report, based on more than 87,000 surveys from owners of 2020 model vehicles in the first three months of ownership, found many more problems thanlast year’s edition—an average of 166 per 100 vehicles, compared with 93 per 100 vehicles in 2019. Doug Betts, the president of JD Power’s automotive division and a former Apple executive, says the figures aren’t comparable, because JD Power changed the questions to ask car owners about newer features like touch-free trunk sensors and specific aspects of their infotainment systems. The more features and tech packed into a vehicle, “the more opportunities for problems, certainly,” Betts says.
Betts points to that dynamic to explain why premium car brands have done relatively poorly on JD Power’s initial quality survey in recent years. Genesis, Hyundai’s luxury brand, took the number two spot in the brand rankings with 142 problems per 100 vehicles. After that, only Lexus (159 problems per 100 vehicles) and Cadillac (162 problems per 100 vehicles) beat the industry average of 166 problems per 100 vehicles. Luxury vehicles aren’t less safe than their mass market brethren. In fact, all of today’s cars have fewer scary defects than they did a few decades ago. But because premium car owners pay more money for more stuff, they may be more likely to report problems when that stuff doesn’t work.
Owners are having issues with glitchy and hard-to-use infotainment systems, an area in which automotive companies have not always excelled. People find navigating the menus mysterious; they complain about the poor quality of built-in voice recognition systems; they can’t connect their phones viaBluetooth. They even have trouble connecting withAppleCarplay andAndroidAuto, which integrate users’ phone operating systems with their vehicle display and are meant to bring intuitive, Silicon Valley-level user interfaces into your car.
Overall, Fiat-Chrysler’s Dodge brand tied with Korea’s Kia for the quality gold, with 136 problems per 100 vehicles. Chevrolet, Ram, Buick, GMC, Jeep, and Cadillac also ranked above the industry average, making for Detroit automakers’ best performance since JD Power started its quality survey 34 years ago. Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Audi, and Land Rover did the worst.
Another poor performer wasTesla, which made its first appearance in the quality survey with 250 problems per 100 vehicles. But the number comes with heavy asterisks. In 15 states, vehicle manufacturers have to give companies like JD Power permission to collect info on their customers. Most other carmakers grant this permission—but not Tesla. As a result, the survey doesn’t include info from some of the electric carmaker’s biggest markets, like California and New York. Still, JD Power says it was able to gather enough responses from other states to extrapolate a quality rating for Tesla, while trying to take into account that some states’ car owners tend to be more positive about their vehicles than others.
Tesla owners—who tend to be superfans of the electric-car maker’s mission and approach to tech—have sometimes been critical of the company’sapproach to quality. The JD Power survey picked up on some of those issues, with owners reporting defects related to body parts fitting together, rattling noises, and vehicle paint. “The interesting thing is that Tesla’s number is high in what I would call the ‘blocking and tackling’ of making cars,” Betts says. Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.
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