Less technology is giving drivers fewer headaches

Linda D. Garrow

Mainstream auto brands like Toyota, Ford, Chevrolet and Honda are causing drivers fewer problems than luxury cars largely because they have less technology, a newly released survey showed.

The J.D. Power study, which surveyed 29,487 original owners of 2019 model-year vehicles after three years of ownership from July to November, found that infotainment systems alone were the single biggest source of problems reported by owners.

“Many owners are holding on to their vehicles longer,” David Amodeo, director of global automotive at J.D. Power, said. “So long-term dependability is even more critical.” 

The study showed that the gap between the best and worst brands is significant, according to Amodeo. Kia owners reported an average 145 problems for every 100 vehicles included in the survey. In Power-speak, that is “145 PP100.” By comparison, bottom-ranked Land Rover had nearly twice the reported complaints, at 284 PP100.

The industry average for the vehicles covered in the 2022 Vehicle Dependability Study was 192 problems per 100. What was also surprising was that mainstream brands — such as Kia, Toyota and Chevrolet — outscored luxury marques like Lexus, Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz — by an average 190 versus 204 PP100.

There appears to be one key reason: the amount of digital technology they use.

“Some automakers are performing much better than others at preventing problems from occurring,” Amodeo said. “These problems include the vehicle’s mechanicals, exterior and interior, but also infotainment systems, driver assistance systems and all the other electronic systems in today’s vehicles.”

Stuart Schorr, VP Communications with Jaguar Land Rover said in a statement that “In the last year we have started rolling out a new infotainment platform with simplified screen menus, hands free operations, pairing with phones.”

From the initial review the problematic area was by far with infotainment. In the last year we have started rolling out a new infotainment platform with simplified screen menus, hands free operations, pairing with phones.

One of the other significant findings of the study was that Japanese automakers to a large degree have lost the quality and reliability lead they long enjoyed. While Toyota ranked No. 5 in the power study and luxury brand Lexus ranked No. 6, many familiar Japanese names including Honda and Nissan were rated as below average.

Korean brands Kia, Hyundai and Genesis, long perceived to have lasting quality, captured three of the top four spots. General Motors, which also struggled over the years with a reputation for poorer quality, was another leader in the study, led by its Buick brand in the No. 2 spot.

Difficult balance

While owners reported experiencing traditional, mechanical issues, such as faulty engines and transmissions, they’re far less common than even a decade ago. Today it’s digital technology that has a higher propensity to fail.

Infotainment systems were the single biggest source of owner complaints, according to the study, at an average 51.9 problems for every 100 vehicles. Built-in voice recognition systems were the single top concern in the study, though issues with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as Bluetooth connectivity, also created large numbers of complaints. 

That poses a conundrum for automakers. They know customers are demanding more high-tech features and might go somewhere else to get the latest infotainment and safety systems. The challenge is how to prevent these issues.

Going forward, manufacturers are looking at solutions like using of smartphone-style over-the-air updates, Amodeo noted. While that won’t prevent problems, it will give an automaker a way to send a fix out without forcing customers back to dealerships, and they may not even discover there was a problem in the first place.


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