Saturday, May 10, 2003

Quality Is Job 1: The latest J.D. Power survey of initial quality is out and here are the results in complaints per 100 cars:

76 Lexus
103 Cadillac
110 Infiniti
111 Acura
112 Buick
113 Mercury
117 Porsche
118 BMW
121 Toyota
122 Jaguar
128 Honda
128 Volvo
130 Chevrolet
132 Audi
132 Mercedes-Benz
133 Industry Average
134 Oldsmobile
136 Chrysler
136 Ford
137 Dodge
139 Lincoln
139 Nissan
142 Pontiac
143 Hyundai
143 Volkswagen
144 GMC
144 Suzuki
146 Jeep
148 Mazda
148 Mitsubishi
158 Saturn
160 Saab
166 Mini
168 Kia
190 Land Rover
225 Hummer

Many things jump out. First, Lexus is head and shoulders above anyone else - by a lot. Second, Hummer is almost as outstandingly bad as Lexus is good. Third, some rebadged models have very different ratings. For example, Fords and Mercurys share many models, as do Buick and Olds and Pontiac, but the ratings vary widely. Fourth, who did Cadillac have to get drunk and take to whorehouse to get that high rating?

There are a number caveats to this whole process. First, there could be wide variations between models within the marque. Second, this is initial quality, it may have no bearing on durability. Third it is a measure of complaints, not defects. For example, 22 of the complaints about the Hummer were over poor gas mileage. It's a two and half ton truck, you were expecting 40 mpg? 12 more Hummer complaints were for wind noise. Yah, it's as aerodynamic as a brick. You knew this going in - quit yer whinin'.

I continue to think a better, but still flawed, measure of quality are the surveys done my Consumer Reports. You know the ones, where they track repairs and recalls over multiple product years and have the black dots for bad and red for good. It's subscriber only so I can't link up the site, but you can get a copy in your local bookstore. One thing Consumer Reports does provide on the web is recommendations on used cars. Here's their latest.

Good Bets

These are the best of both worlds: models that have performed well in Consumer Reports tests over the years and have had better-than-average overall reliability. Models are listed alphabetically.

Acura Integra
Acura RL
Acura TL
Ford Escort
Geo/Chevrolet Prizm
Honda Accord
Honda Civic
Honda CR-V
Honda Odyssey
Infiniti G20
Infiniti I30
Isuzu Oasis
Lexus ES300
Lexus GS300/GS400, GS430
Lexus LS400, LS430
Lexus RX300
Mazda Millenia
Mazda MX-5 Miata
Mazda Protegé
Mercury Tracer
Nissan Altima
Nissan Maxima
Nissan Pathfinder
Saab 9-5
Subaru Forester
Subaru Impreza
Subaru Legacy/Outback
Toyota 4Runner
Toyota Avalon
Toyota Camry
Toyota Camry Solara
Toyota Celica
Toyota Corolla
Toyota Echo
Toyota RAV4
Toyota Sienna
Toyota Tacoma
Toyota Tundra

Reliability risks

These cars have shown several years of much-worse-than-average overall reliability.

Cadillac Catera
Cadillac Seville
Chevrolet Astro
Chevrolet Blazer
Chrysler New Yorker, LHS
Chrysler Town & Country (AWD)
Dodge Caravan (4-cyl.)
Dodge Dakota (4WD)
Dodge Durango
Dodge Grand Caravan (AWD)
Dodge Neon
Ford Focus
Ford Windstar
GMC Jimmy
GMC Safari
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Lincoln LS
Mercedes-Benz M-Class
Oldsmobile Alero
Oldsmobile Bravada
Oldsmobile Cutlass
Plymouth Grand Voyager
Plymouth Neon
Plymouth/Chrysler Voyager (4-cyl.)
Pontiac Grand Am
Volkswagen Jetta
Volkswagen New Beetle
Volvo S80

This makes a little more sense to me. Either Saab and Mazda have gone down the toilet, and Caddy, Volvo, Mercedes have cleaned up their act, or durability is not highly correlated with initial complaints.