Improved quality is good news, but the race isn't over
The U.S. industry deserves a huge gold star for its latest report card on quality.
Nearly 100 vehicles had less than one problem each, as measured by J.D. Power and Associates. The industry average was a scant 81 problems per 100 vehicles. That's a 19-point cut in one year. When the Initial Quality Study came out a decade ago, the average was 166 problems. Yesterday's excellence has become today's norm. Outstanding.
True, you can snipe at the survey. It measures only the first 90 days of ownership, for example. And a squeaky glove box should not count the same as a broken transmission. But by and large, the quality gap has shrunk below significance.
Unfortunately, though, parity has its pitfalls. Automakers now must conquer them, just as they met the quality issue, or risk falling behind.
Ford raised a flag recently when it warned dealers that, because of improved quality, they should expect less revenue from warranty repairs.
Other issues to consider:
People will keep their cars longer, so they will not buy new cars as often.
The showroom floor will become more important, a place where automakers can really set themselves apart. The industry's record there is spotty, at best.
Loyalty - everyone's holy grail - will become more elusive. 'I love my trouble-free Sable. Think I'll try a Camry next time.'
What's more, the quality gains that have been made could erode as automakers try to cut costs.
So, congratulations on passing algebra, automakers. On to the next class: calculus.
Noble effort by GM
General Motors is doing its darnedest to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear in the California electric-vehicle derby.
The sow's ear is the completely unacceptable driving range of GM's electric EV1. The car itself already has silk-purse status - it's pretty, it's peppy, it's comfortable, it's fun to drive. But it probably will not take you from here to there.
Its maximum range is 70 miles. Its actual range - with a full load of equipment and real-world driving conditions - is closer to 45 miles.
Only 176 persons have leased an EV1 since it went on the market last December; just 25 in April. Now, GM has reduced the lease fee considerably.
GM deserves credit for testing the consumer side of the electric-vehicle market, but its EV1 is a toy. And it will remain a toy until someone, somewhere develops a battery that will propel that toy at least 250 miles between charges.