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JD Power 2021 Initial Quality Study

JD Power 2021 Initial Quality Study

Each year, J.D. Power surveys owners of new vehicles at 90 days of ownership.  The result is the J.D. Power U.S. Initial Quality StudySM (IQS).

Initial quality is measured by the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles (PP100) during the first 90 days of ownership, with a lower score reflecting higher quality. The industry average of 162 PP100 is 4 PP100 better than in 2020, with 20 of 32 brands improving their quality from 2020.

This study is considered the automotive industry benchmark for new vehicle quality, and is believed to be a good predictor of long-term reliability. I have a different viewpoint on the results.  Let’s take a dive into the data.

The Chart

The following chart shows the position of each brand, ranked by the number of problems per 100 vehicles.

Key Findings from J.D. Power

  • Infotainment remains the most problematic category
  • The top complaint this year is Android Auto/Apple CarPlay connectivity
  • Mass market brands continue to outperform premium brands
  • Nissan Maxima achieves the highest score of any model.  
  • Top models in their segments include:
    • Hyundai:  Genesis G80, Hyundai Accent, Kia Forte, Kia Sedona, Kia Soul, Kia Sportage and Kia Telluride.
    • Toyota:  Lexus RC; Lexus RX; Lexus UX; Toyota Sequoia; and Toyota Tundra.
    • Nissan:  Nissan Altima; Nissan Maxima; and Nissan Murano.
    • GM:  Cadillac CT5 and Chevrolet Corvette
    • Stellantis:  Jeep Gladiator and Ram 2500/3500.
  • Tesla’s unofficial score improves from 2020, but Tesla doesn’t grant J.D. Power permission to survey its owners in 15 states where it is required. 

More detail on the categories surveyed can be found HERE on J.D. Power’s website.

My Observations

I do not like a lot of technology in my cars.  Call me old school, but I’m more into the driving dynamics and overall styling of a car.  Clearly, all that tech is jading buyer’s perception of vehicle quality. 

With that, here are my thoughts: 

First of all…Dodge, Ram and Jeep are well above average (Ram and Dodge are number 1 and 2, respectively)?  They are followed by Mitsubishi, Nissan, Kia and Hyundai.  It appears those brands know how to read their buyers’ needs and are meeting them.  Good for them!

  • The survey results show the top issue is infotainment systems.  I’m not surprised since touchscreens, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and the like are featured so prominently in marketing materials.  It seems today’s buyer is more concerned that their phone syncs with the car than the car getting them where they need to go. 
  • With the exception of Hyundai’s luxury brand, Genesis, all other premium brands scored lower than average.  Not surprising, since the more premium a car the more complicated their equipment.
  • Brands that historically show better long-term reliability like Subaru, BMW, Honda and Porsche are much lower than average in the IQS study.  Is this a matter of new infotainment systems in these cars, or perhaps buyer’s remorse and high expectations?  I suspect a little of both.

Today’s cars are rolling entertainment centers with advanced driver assistance devices (lane keep assistant, stability control, engine rev match, park assist cameras, etc., etc.).  This complexity is out of control and is at the heart of these poor initial quality scores. 

These cars are not as problematic as this study would suggest.  The car is not the problem.  The technology jammed into them for technology sake is the issue.

I know my buddy Matt from GT: Garage Talk will agree!

Compare to Consumer Reports’ Report Card 

If you read my article, Consumer Report 2021 Automotive Report Card, you may be confused by the conflicting rankings.  It is almost as though the J.D. Power chart is the reverse of the Consumer Reports ranking.  A couple of reasons come to mind:

  • The surveys take place during different points in the ownership cycle.  J.D. Power takes a snapshot at the 90 day mark, Consumer Reports after a couple of years of ownership.  To me, the CR results are a better barometer of vehicle reliability.
  • Consumer Reports subscribers have a different perspective than the mass audience surveyed by JDP.  They typically spend a lot of time researching their vehicles before purchase, so may have a personal interest (bias?) in protecting their decision to buy.
  • That first 90 days of ownership is the time when you learn about your car.  Yes, real issues can surface at that time.  That’s why you have a warranty to take care of the repairs.  Unfortunately, there is no warranty for unrealistic expectations.

The Resolution

During my Saturn years at General Motors, we tore ourselves apart trying to resolve a poor score.  As new technology was introduced into our vehicles, we would take a hit in the survey.  The service teams would show us low warranty repair data for those systems, so we felt the vehicles were performing as designed.  

As it turned out, we discovered that owners were not getting a good explanation of these new features during the time of the sale.  We instituted new training for the retail teams to help combat that.  The rest of General Motors was doing the same.  

At one point, GM required the dealers to have experts available to better demonstrate these features to customers at the time of delivery.  It helped, but then the customers complained that the time to buy a vehicle was too long.  That’s a topic for another time.

Education and Support of Automotive

Even though I try to focus on the collector car hobby and/or fun used vehicles, it is important to look to the future as brands that struggle with new vehicle issues can affect the value of older models. Of course, some of you may be considering a new car purchase, so this information may prove helpful.  This is the intent of Vehicle Nanny, and certainly helps nurture the automotive interests of budding car enthusiasts.

In addition to sharing information like this, I am providing ongoing support of automotive programs designed to inspire and educate young car enthusiasts through the sale of items in the Vehicle Nanny Merchandise Store.  All proceeds go directly to programs that support teens and young adults in their pursuit of the car hobby or an automotive career. I hope you can find a fun item for yourself that also supports our budding car enthusiasts.

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