Dependabilty seen on the decline
Owners reporting more problems with 2011 models. Lexus did the best.
DETROIT - The race to increase vehicle fuel economy is taking a toll on quality.
Owners of three-year-old vehicles are reporting more problems than a year ago, according to J.D. Power & Associates' annual survey of vehicle dependability. It's the first time since 1998 that the average number of problems per vehicle has increased.
Power, a California-based ratings and consulting company, said engine issues accounted for most of the increase in problems reported by the original owners of cars and trucks from the 2011 model year. Owners reported an average of 133 problems per 100 vehicles, up from 126 a year ago. Only problems within the prior 12 months are counted.
Automakers are rapidly implementing new engine technologies to save fuel, including direct fuel injection and turbocharging, systems that automatically shut engines down at traffic lights, and transmissions with higher gears.
But those systems can cause problems. David Sargent, Power's vice president of global automotive, said the company saw an increase in complaints about engine hesitation, rough transmission shifts, and lack of power.
"While striving to reduce fuel consumption, automakers must be careful not to compromise quality," Sargent said in a statement.
The scores could improve in coming years because since 2011, automakers have worked to make new transmissions shift more smoothly, refined clunky stop-start systems, and improved other fuel-saving technologies.
Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, and Cadillac had the vehicles with the fewest reported problems. Lexus had just 68 problems per 100 vehicles, the only brand with fewer than 100 problems.
General Motors Co. had the most winners in each segment, with eight, including the highest-ranked compact car, the Chevrolet Volt, and the highest-ranked pickup, the GMC Sierra. Toyota Motor Corp. was second with seven segment winners, including the Toyota Camry minivan and Lexus ES luxury compact car.
Mini, Dodge, and Land Rover had the most reported problems. Mini, the worst performer, had 185 problems per 100 vehicles.
The survey questioned 41,000 owners of 2011 model year vehicles between October and December of last year.