What it is: The Initial Quality Study is a widely cited report, published each spring, of new-car quality based on owner impressions. It lists each brand with the number of problems per 100 vehicles and arrives at an industrywide average of quality performance. The study identifies top-ranked individual models based on examining 223 problems in nine vehicle categories, and uses those results to rate the industry's best-performing assembly plants.
Where it comes from: J.D. Power surveys tens of thousands of new-vehicle owners about their experience through the first 90 days of ownership or three months in service. It has limited access to Tesla and Polestar customers, but shares its best estimates of those brands.
How it's used: Three months of ownership isn't a guarantee of long-term durability, but it's often a good indicator. And providing scores on the current year's models gives consumers timely shopping information and lets the industry know what issues should be prioritized — in the eyes of the customer — in continuous improvement efforts.
How it might be misused: Scores can fluctuate from year to year, especially as high-volume models or new technologies launch. The nature of the system rewards older designs that automakers have had more time to perfect. And an absence of problems is only one dimension of value or even quality.