Lexus regained its spot as the most reliable brand, according to the latest J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study, while Kia took a commanding lead among mainstream automotive brands. Tesla, meanwhile, had one of the lowest scores of any brand in the luxury segment.
On the whole, the 2023 VDS shows the auto industry making gains when it comes to the dependability of 3-year-old vehicles — this year’s study focusing on products sold during the 2020 model year. But a closer look at the report finds reasons for concern. Automakers continue to struggle with the reliability of their digital tech features, notably voice recognition and the integration of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
“The industry continues to improve year-over-year in terms of dependability,” Frank Hanley, senior director of auto benchmarking at J.D. Power, said in an exclusive interview with TheDetroitBureau.com. But, “(i)nfotainment is still the most problematic area.” And, if anything, Hanley warned some of those issues “are getting worse.”
Looking for problems
The Vehicle Dependability Study looks at the number of “problems” owners report about their 3-year-old vehicles. That’s measured on a scale of problems per 100 vehicles, or “PP100” in Power-speak.
The 2020 models covered by the VDS average 186 problems per 100 vehicles, a decline of six from last year’s study — with a lower number being better.
On average, issues with infotainment systems were among the biggest headaches owners reported, accounting for 49.9 PP100. That was nearly twice as many problems as owners reported for vehicle exteriors, the next-highest category. Narrowing things down, voice recognition systems generated the largest list of complaints, followed by poorly operating Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
And Hanley warned that, with more and more vehicles using those technology, he expects to field even more complaints in the coming year. Connectivity issues with CarPlay and Android Auto are likely to become “the most problematic area” in the years ahead, especially as voice recognition systems improve.
Owners also registered numerous complaints about the advanced driver assistance technologies that are becoming increasingly common — and popular. And that posed serious problems for Tesla.
“They’re known for that (technology),” said Hanley, in the form of Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving systems. “Their customers use it a lot but they’re experiencing a lot of problems.”
That’s reflected in the growing concerns about the reliability and safety of Tesla’s semi-autonomous driving technology. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is in the midst of a probe that could lead to the recall of more than 800,000 Tesla vehicles.
The EV upstart was also dinged by owners for a variety of vehicle body problems, including squeaks, rattles and body noise, the 2023 VDS study reveals.
Of the 14 brands in the luxury category. Tesla would have come in 11th, said Hanley, though Power doesn’t officially rate the automaker since Tesla won’t give it access to owner data in a number of states.
At the other extreme, Lexus was the highest-ranked luxury brand and the highest-ranked brand overall, with a score of 133 PP100. South Korea’s Genesis came in second, at 144. But the third-ranking brand was another South Korean carmaker, Kia the top-scoring marque in the mainstream category.
At the other extreme, Land Rover lagged — as has long been the case, with a score of 233 PP100. Lincoln did only slightly better, at 259, with Audi third from bottom at 252. Had it been rated, Tesla would have had a score of 242 problems per 100 vehicles.
Several manufacturers managed to make significant headway. Nissan jumped to eighth among the 31 brands included in the 2023 VDS rankings. It came in 20th last year. Ram jumped from a dead-last 31st place to 16th. Overall, the 2023 VDS shows the Lexus RX and the Toyota C-HR to be tied as the most reliable 2020 models.