Audis three-year drive to tackle quality problems in the US has paid off.
The German brand jumped three spots to No. 8 in the J.D. Power and Associates 2005 Initial Quality Study.
Audi set out to improve its quality in 2002 when it languished below the industry average for problems per 100 vehicles after 90 days of ownership.
The carmaker began by accepting the idea that listening to its US customers makes sense. Audi now looks at US quality monthly at the board level. It often makes changes to all its vehicles as a result.
Weve learned because of the greater transparency in the US and the higher level of consumerism that we can get more information from this market, apply that worldwide and raise the whole brand up, says Marc Trahan, Audi of Americas product management and quality director.
Better wipers, brakes
Audi elevated quality to the board level in Germany. Trahan attends monthly meetings in Germany, held specifically to discuss North American quality with board members and representatives from technical and development departments.
Audi Chairman Martin Winterkorn also attends. Winterkorn spearheaded much of Audis new emphasis on US quality.
Audi separated its quality from the joint department at Volkswagen of America that handled both brands.
Trahan hired about 50 quality experts and brought in additional people from Germany. Audis US quality department now has 94 employees.
Specific US-focused quality improvements included different windshield wipers, changes to the brakes and relocated cupholders and cruise-control switches.
The results of Audis measures are evident not only in the J.D. Power survey but also in the annual auto quality study by influential US magazine Consumer Reports. The magazine ranked Audi as the best European brand and cited the A4 V-6 as a bright spot.
In the latest Power survey, Lexus was No. 1 in the rankings. Jaguar moved to the No. 2 spot from third place last year.
Most European brands gained in the study, but Swedish premium carmaker Volvo, a member of Fords Premier Automotive Group, plunged to No. 28 from 14 last year.
Volvo spokesman Christer Gustafsson said the decline reflected technical issues with some cars, but also the absence of features that US customers would like to have. He cited remote-controlled trunk lids as a desired feature that Volvo doesnt offer at the moment. In addition, Gustafsson said some features are either not adequately explained or may be too complex. He said this might be the case with some car-radio controls.
Volvo has already started a program to improve customer satisfaction in the US, Gustafsson said. We must obey the demands of the customers. We will do as much as we can to achieve a higher position in the J.D. Power survey next year, he said.
Jaguars plant in Halewood, near Liverpool, England, earned the Gold Plant Quality Award for the best score among European plants exporting to the US. The plant produces the X-Type lower-premium car.
The Silver award went to BMWs Regensburg, Germany, plant, which builds the 3 series.
Tied for the Bronze award were BMWs Munich plant, which also produces the 3 series, and Porsches factory in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, which builds the 911.