Ram, Dodge top J.D. Power Initial Quality Study

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Stellantis NV crowned J.D. Power's 2021 Initial Quality Study with Ram topping the list followed by Dodge, which had tied for No. 1 with Kia last year — and the automaker's leaders say they won't let electric vehicle technology bring it down.

The survey assessed 32 brands based on the first 90 days of ownership of new vehicles. Five Detroit Three brands bettered the industry average of 162 reported problems per 100 vehicles, which the Ford brand met. Five were worse.

2022 Ram 1500 BackCountry.

Positive feedback from the Ram 2500 and 3500, which topped the list of heavy-duty trucks, as well as Ram 1500 pickups, which ranked second behind the Toyota Tundra in light-duty trucks, boosted the Ram brand from third place in 2020. It was 21st the prior year.

“That commitment from our designers and engineers all the way to the folks assembling every day, that mindset and commitment to quality leads to segment-disrupting vehicles like the Ram 1500," Ram CEO Mike Koval told The Detroit News.

He cited improvements made to ride and handling, air suspension and technology, including the available 12-inch Uconnect infotainment screen. J.D. Power noted infotainment was a distinguishing characteristic for rankings as the most problematic category across the industry. For the first time since 2011, voice recognition was not the top problem. The biggest complaint was phones connecting, especially wirelessly, to Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.

2021 Ram Heavy Duty Uconnect 4C 12-inch screen.

“Owners want wireless connectivity, and the industry has responded,” Dave Sargent, vice president of automotive quality at J.D. Power, said in a statement. “However, this has created a bigger technical challenge for both automakers and tech companies. Automakers generally are the ones facing the wrath of owners, but this is definitely a shared problem. Owners don’t care who’s at fault — they just want their phone and their vehicle to talk to each other.”

Lower scores mean fewer problems reported. Ram's industry-leading result was 128 problems per 100 vehicles, an improvement by 13. Dodge was 139, up from 136 last year.

Mark Champine is Head of Quality for FCA - North America.

"I can't complain that Dodge got to be thrown from the first position by Ram," said Mark Champine, head of quality for Stellantis in North America. "Infotainment has been a competitive advantage for us. When we introduce new technology to vehicles, we don’t want to lose that competitive advantage. This space is always evolving. We need to make sure we don’t have any setbacks."

Change certainly carries an inherent risk. Coming down the pipeline is electrification. Ram will offer an all-electric 1500 pickup in 2024. Also that year, Dodge will introduce an electric muscle car with a hybrid vehicle preceding it in 2023. Stellantis currently offers no full EVs but offers the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan and the Jeep Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid. Ram trucks also use a mild hybrid eTorque system.

"Those programs are going to help us as we see a greater trend toward electrification," Champine said. "They do create unique challenges, but to me, there is no replacement for experience. We’ve learned a lot and incorporated those learnings into future programs to help make them more successful when those launches do come out."

Koval emphasized Ram will provide customers a "suite of solutions" at the right time that won't require them to sacrifice capability and performance. Even confronted with the global semiconductor shortage this year, Ram's team is seeking out creative and quick solutions, Koval said.

"We pride ourselves and our strengths in issue identification and issue resolution. We see an issue emerge, we attack it. It’s all about speed," he said. "We make decisions based on the long-term, not potentially short-term benefit."

2021 Jeep Gladiator Texas Trail

Jeep also improved in the J.D. Power survey this year, rising to an eighth-place tie with Hyundai, up from 11th in 2020. It had 149 problems. The Gladiator topped the midsize pickup category and Grand Cherokee was third in the midsize SUV field behind the No. 1 Nissan Murano and No. 2 Chevrolet Blazer.

Chevrolet followed Jeep in a tie with Mini with 151 reported issues. The Corvette topped the premium sporty cars category. The Spark, Malibu, Traverse, Tahoe and Colorado also ranked second or third in their respective categories.

Following Chevy was Buick with 156 problems. Ford's Super Duty and Ranger midsize pickups ranked in the top three. Lincoln, GMC, Cadillac and Alfa Romeo all fell below the industry average. Despite the Chrysler 300 reaching the podium in the large-car segment, with the Dodge Charger behind the Nissan Maxima, which had the fewest (85) reported problems, the Chrysler brand ranked last.

The company last year launched a refresh of the Pacifica, including as the first vehicle with the next-generation Uconnect software, which has since been adopted by other brands.

"We degraded on the Pacifica," Champine said. "Our execution on the infotainment side did not perform as well as we expected. We’ve since got a number of improvements implemented."

Overall, new-vehicle quality across the industry improved 2% year-over-year, less than the decade's average 3% annual improvement. Twenty of the 32 brands saw better results. Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus was the top luxury brand with 144 problems. Hyundai Motor Corp. came away with the most No. 1s, with seven vehicles topping their segments.

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble