Key paragraph: "But shoppers who take the results as a sign that this is
a good time to buy a new Buick might still be disappointed. While the
study offered some indication that the General Motors nameplate was
achieving top-level dependability, shoppers may wonder if they are three
years too late. All but one of the Buick models that did so well are
extinct. The Century, Park Avenue and Regal are gone; the Rainier sport
utility is still in dealerships, but production has ended."
Another question is whether GM can sustain the quality level and extend
it to other brands.
Lexus-Level Dependability, Now Available at Lower Prices
PART cautionary tale for consumers and part report card for automakers,
the latest J. D. Power & Associates Vehicle Dependability Study,
released last week, seemed to prove that you no longer have to pay a
premium price to get premium quality.
In fact, the highest-rated brands in the study included several
nonluxury car lines, like Mercury, Honda, Toyota and Subaru, as well as
three American luxury brands — Buick, Cadillac and Lincoln — that
usually take a back seat to foreign rivals.
The 2007 study, which examined how well 2004 models have fared over
three years, also poses a question that might once have been considered
heresy: Can a Buick be as dependable as a Lexus?
Apparently so; the two brands tied for first place, ending Lexus’s
12-year reign as the uncontested leader in long-term quality.
But shoppers who take the results as a sign that this is a good time to
buy a new Buick might still be disappointed. While the study offered
some indication that the General Motors nameplate was achieving
top-level dependability, shoppers may wonder if they are three years too
late. All but one of the Buick models that did so well are extinct. The
Century, Park Avenue and Regal are gone; the Rainier sport utility is
still in dealerships, but production has ended.
The Power dependability study ranks three-year-old vehicles by the
number of problems reported by more than 53,000 original owners. The
report offers a look at how vehicles are holding up over a longer period
— problems caused by components that break as a result of use or age and
have to be replaced, rather than issues that arise from faulty assembly.
The study ranks 38 automakers by the number of problems for every 100
vehicles; the lower the score, the better the ranking. At the top, Buick
and Lexus each tallied 145 problems per 100 vehicles. Land Rover, a
perennial cellar dweller, was again at the bottom with 398 problems per
100 vehicles, although it has improved with 40 fewer problems per 100
than last year. Hummer was the most improved brand.
Over all, the news is good, with two-thirds of the brands improving from
last year. That shows the industry is continuing to improve in long-term
durability, according to Power. The industry average this year is 216
problems per 100 cars, 11 fewer than last year.
Still, the study found that about 65 percent of owners experienced one
or more problems that required replacement of a component, which could
be anything from a wear item like brake pads up to a transmission. This
is important to automakers: owners who had to replace parts during the
first three years of ownership are considerably less satisfied than
those who didn’t, and less likely to be loyal to the brand.
The dependability report can be helpful to consumers looking for a used
vehicle because it provides the names of the top three models in 19 car
and truck segments ranging from subcompact car to large pickup.
Factors contributing to Buick’s showing include G.M’s efforts at
continuous product improvement and the long production run of models
like Regal and Century, which gave the company time to work out
problems. In addition, older owners — the typical demographic of brands
like Buick and Mercury — “tend to be a bit more lenient or they tend to
notice fewer problems,” said Joe Ivers, executive director for
automotive quality and customer satisfaction at J. D. Power.
Mr. Ivers insisted that this did not diminish Buick’s achievement.
“Buick now has a track record,” he said.
There is also some reason to expect the new Buicks will fare well, Mr.
Ivers said, because they also did well in short-term quality reports:
“G.M. has some ambitions for Buick, to resurrect that brand by
repositioning it to actually, of all things, compete with Lexus.
“Ten years ago, everybody in the room would have been laughing,” Mr.
Ivers said. “In fact, some people still would. But we could argue with
our data that Buick is beginning to become more credible as a competitor.”
Lexus has long had a reputation for treating its customers right, but
this year Buick beat Lexus in another Power survey, which measured
satisfaction with dealership service departments.
“I’m not saying this is definitive proof, but I’m suggesting that now is
a good time to start raising the question of whether Buick in fact is
ready for prime time,” Mr. Ivers said.
The dependability study also suggests that the long-term quality of cars
made by the South Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia may not yet be quite
as good as had been indicated by the 2004 Initial Quality Study, a
measure of faults in the first 90 days of ownership.
In that study, the Korean automakers cut their initial quality problems
by 57 percent over the previous six years; Hyundai in particular found
itself in the enviable position of being in the top 10 in initial quality.
But those same 2004 models are now part of this long-term quality study,
and Hyundai is not in the top 10 but in 23rd place, below the industry
average. Hyundai had 228 problems per 100 vehicles, worse than the
industry average of 216 problems.
“Longer-term quality is the high hurdle, Mr. Ivers said. “But Hyundai is
definitely in the hunt.” In addition, Hyundai is still improving at a
rate that is about twice the improvement rate of the industry on
average, he said.
Mercedes-Benz made noteworthy gains, moving above the industry average
after years of struggling. But it still came in well below its
archrival, BMW, the top-rated European automaker.
Still, for consumers who cannot afford a luxury vehicle, the good news
is that the gap between luxury and nonluxury brands has been narrowing
and will continue to diminish, Mr. Ivers said.