June 18, 2014 at 1:00 pm

GM gains most segment awards in J.D. Power quality study

General Motors Co. picked up more segment awards than any other automaker in the 2014 J.D. Power & Associates’ Initial Quality Study. However, three of the GM’s brands — Chevrolet, GMC and Buick — fell in the rankings from a year ago while Cadillac maintained its position. Ford Motor Co.’s Ford and Lincoln brands improved. Fiat Chrysler Automobile LLC’s Chrysler and Ram brands improved from a year ago, but its Jeep nameplate fell and its Fiat brand stayed at the bottom of the rankings.

The annual report, released Wednesday at an Automotive Press Association event at the Detroit Athletic Club, found that launch problems, technology issues and a rough winter led to a 3 percent rise in quality issues from a year ago.

Many of the issues centered around bug-filled infotainment systems and problems with voice recognition software and Bluetooth pairing.

“Automakers are trying to give consumers the new features and technology they want without introducing additional quality problems into their vehicles,” David Sargent, J.D. Power’s vice president of global automotive, said in a statement. “However, almost all automakers are struggling to do this flawlessly with some consumers indicating that the technology is hard to understand, difficult to use or simply does not always work as designed.”

Harsh winter weather throughout much of the country led to an increase in heating, ventilation and transmission issues, the report found.

“Automakers test vehicles in extreme conditions to ensure they function properly,” Sargent said in a statement. “However, it is impossible to completely negate the effects of severe weather. Heating and ventilation systems have more work to do, engines and transmissions aren’t as smooth when cold, and exterior moldings and paint all take some punishment. Consumers generally understand this but still report problems when their vehicle does not wholly live up to their expectations.”

The report, now in its 28th year, examines problems experienced by vehicle owners during the first 90 days of ownership. The initial quality is measured by the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles. The lower the score, the better.

For the second-straight year, Porsche ranked highest among all brands with the fewest problems with a quality score of 74.

A number of GM brands fell in the rankings, including the GMC trucks, which dropped from No. 2 overall in 2013 to No. 17 this year. Its GMC brand had a quality score of 116, compared to 90 last year.

“In GM’s case, there’s no impact from the recall standpoint, but what we did see, it’s really more of a launch story,” Renee Stephens, J. D. Power’s senior vice president of global automotive quality, said in an interview. “They launched a new generation of full-size pickups. There was a lot of volume, and that caused a drop in the score.”

Sargent said nearly every automaker goes through similar falls when they launch new products.

“It’s not an indication GM quality is not good,” he said.

Ford, which has struggled in past reports with its infotainment system, jumped above the industry average thanks to improvements in its technology, Sargent said.

“This is easily the biggest challenge facing the industry right now,” he said. “Ford led the industry into this arena and got beaten up mercilessly for it. They’ve learned those lessons and solved a lot of those issues.”

The Dearborn automaker rose from a quality score of 131 last year to 116 this year.

“Ford is really showing improvement,” Stephens said. “In past studies, Ford slipped backwards due to the MyFord Touch, but they’re starting to catch up. They’re making changes and making it more intuitive. They’re also keeping quality levels really good.”

Stephens said Chrysler, which fell marginally from a quality score of 109 in 2013 to 111 this year, did well with its Chrysler 200 and Ram trucks.

GM for the second straight year received more segment awards — six — than any other automaker. The Buick Encore (tie), Chevrolet Malibu, Chevrolet Silverado HD, Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon (tie) and GMC Terrain (tie) all won awards.

Ford won three segment awards (Ford Edge, Ford F-I50 LD and Lincoln MKX) and Chrysler won two (Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Challenger).

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