Domestics continue to close gap on overseas rivals

Lexus keeps J.D. Power dependability crown; GM scores 2 spots in top 5

Domestics continue to close gap on overseas rivals

The Lexus LS, seen here, and Cadillac DTS are the most dependable models in the 2014 study with scores of 62.
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Lexus again is the most dependable auto brand after three years of ownership while two General Motors marques joined the top five, J.D. Power and Associates said today.

Lexus earned the top spot in J.D. Power's 2014 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study for the third straight year, while Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, Acura and Buick rounded out the top five.

Cadillac and Buick jumped into the top five to bolster GM's dependability standing after having only Buick in the top 10 in 2013. Lincoln was the only domestic brand in the top five in 2013. Three domestics were in the top 10 this year, mirroring 2013.

Porsche, Lincoln and Toyota fell out of the top five this year.

On the other end, Mini, Dodge, Land Rover, Jeep and Hyundai ranked lowest.

The study, based on responses from 41,000 original owners of 2011 vehicles among 31 brands, looks at problems experienced during the past 12 months.

Dependability is determined by the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles, with lower scores indicating higher quality. Feedback was gathered between October and December 2013.

Domestics continue to steadily close the dependability gap that foreign brands have built.

This year, domestics scored 138 compared with 130 for foreign brands. In prior years, the gap was 10 in 2013, 13 in 2012 and 18 in 2011 and 2010.

GM is seeing the benefits from cutting the number of vehicles it engineers -- going from seven brands in 2009 to four, said Dave Sargent, J.D. Power's vice president of global automotive. Sargent said it's easier to focus on a smaller number of vehicles.

Domestic automakers are "obsessed with quality and dependability right now. One of the things holding them back is this perception that their quality isn't as good as the imports. To overcome that, first of all, they have to fix the quality and, secondly, they have to fix the perception, which is even harder," Sargent said in an interview. "They know to be a winner, they've got to get this right."

Of the 10 domestic brands, five were at or above the industry average in 2014, one better than last year. Foreign manufacturers have 11 brands above the average, up from eight in 2013.

Daimler, Toyota and Honda were the top three at the manufacturer level, with GM coming in fourth.

Sargent said the Lexus LS and Cadillac DTS are the most dependable models with scores of 62. Lexus models, he said, made up six of the top 12.

The 2014 industry average is 133, worse than last year's 126. J.D. Power attributes much of the rise to engine and transmission problems, which accounted for six of the seven additional problems per 100 vehicles in the 2011 model year.

Smaller engines

The study says the dependability decline was especially noticeable for four-cylinder engines. In some cases, people are moving to vehicles with four-cylinder engines from those with six cylinders and not liking the extra engine noise and hesitation.

"The manufacturers are putting a lot of effort into trying to squeeze as much fuel economy as possible out of these engines, particularly with the four-cylinders. By doing that, they sometimes compromise the actual performance of the engine and transmission," Sargent said.

"It feels like the engine is hesitating or the transmission is shifting erratically because it's trying to deal with the fact that it's basically being starved of fuel. The customer gets good fuel economy, but they don't get the performance and the smoothness they want."

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Source: J.D. Power

Big gainers

Jaguar had the largest improvement among brands that scored above the industry average.

Jaguar, 132, bettered its score by 32 in 2014. Cadillac, 107, improved by 21, while Mercedes-Benz, 104, and Acura, 109, each cut problems by 11 per 100 vehicles.

Land Rover, 179, experienced the biggest overall gain after improving its score by 41. Despite the boost, the brand still finished third to last in 2014 after being last in 2013.

Other notable gains from brands below the industry average came from Volkswagen, 158, which had a 16-point improvement; Mitsubishi, 166, trimmed 12 points from its score; and Dodge, 181, cut nine points.

Overall, 15 brands improved, 15 brands declined and one, Jeep, equaled its 2013 score.

You can reach Vince Bond Jr. at vbond@crain.com. -- Follow Vince on Twitter


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