It’s no secret that auto manufacturers are creating better vehicles than ever before – safer, more feature-rich, higher quality, and more reliable. Data from our Vehicle Dependability Study, which surveys owners of three-year-old vehicles regarding the number of problems experienced in the prior twelve months, backs the assertion of improved reliability. As illustrated below, these five high-volume brands have each dramatically reduced their problem incidence since 2005. In fact, Ford’s is now nearly on par with long-time industry leaders Honda and Toyota.
But consumer sentiment is often divorced from reality. The domestic brands continue to carry poor reliability perceptions borne out of decades of actual poor performance. The 2010 Avoider Study, which examines the reasons consumers fail to consider (i.e. avoid) particular new models, shows that Chrysler, Chevrolet, and Ford are all avoided by greater than 20% of vehicle buyers because of reliability concerns. The latter two have made inroads (carried at least partly by better actual performance) and decreased their reliability avoidance by three and seven percentage points, respectively, over the past six years. Meanwhile, Chrysler’s reliability avoidance continues to worsen.
The Toyota and Honda corporations have long enjoyed stellar reputations for reliability. For Acura and Honda, those perceptions have remained remarkably steady for the past six years, never rising above 7% avoidance. Conversely, the steady drum of recalls and poor PR has negatively impacted Toyota and Lexus, with 15% and 6% of avoiders, respectively, citing reliability concerns. Interestingly, corporate sibling Scion, which has largely avoided the fallout, actually experienced an improved reliability perception in 2010.
The Toyota saga illustrates how quickly brand reputations – even those which have been painstakingly crafted over years – can turn. Mercedes-Benz went through a similarly painful period ten years ago, when the Chrysler takeover and new product launches created numerous vehicle reliability issues. It has taken the company the remaining part of the decade to recover its once sterling image. Toyota Motor Corporation must continue its redoubled efforts to produce great products and earn back its position as a reliability leader.