JD Power: Smartphone connectivity now biggest auto quality headache

TROY—A balky transmission? Poor fit and finish? Nope. The automotive quality analysis firm J.D. Power’s latest U.S. Initial Quality Study found that smartphone connections are now the No. 1 quality complaint with new cars.

Overall, new vehicle quality improved 2% from 2020 to 2021, the survey found. This is slightly lower than the average rate of improvement (3%) seen during the past decade.

“Owners are caught in the middle when vehicle and phone technologies don’t properly connect,” said Dave Sargent, vice president of automotive quality at J.D. Power. “This year there are many examples of smartphone technology not working as intended in new vehicles. With more vehicles being fitted with the wireless technology owners want, the study reveals an increase in connectivity problems between smartphones and vehicles, leaving many owners unhappy.”

Initial quality is measured by the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles (PP100) during the first 90 days of ownership, with a lower score reflecting higher quality. The industry average of 162 PP100 is 4 PP100 better than in 2020, with 20 of 32 brands improving their quality from 2020.

Following are key findings of the 2021 study:

  • Infotainment remains most problematic category: One in four (25%) of all problems cited by new-vehicle owners are in the infotainment category, and six of the top 10 problems across the industry are infotainment-related.
  • Smartphone connection is top problem: For the first time since 2011, voice recognition is not the top problem cited by new-vehicle owners. The top complaint this year is Android Auto/Apple CarPlay connectivity, which worsens significantly. This is a particular problem when these systems are operated wirelessly, which is increasingly common. “Owners want wireless connectivity, and the industry has responded,” Sargent said. “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.”
  • Mass market brands continue to outperform premium brands: For the past six years, owners of mass market vehicles have cited fewer problems, on average, than owners of premium vehicles. Premium brands generally equip their vehicles with more and more complex technology, which can cause problems for some owners. Lexus (144 PP100) and Genesis (148 PP100) are the only premium brands that perform better than the industry average.
  • Nissan Maxima achieves highest score of any model: The Nissan Maxima, with just 85 PP100, has the best score of any model in this year’s study.
  • Tesla’s unofficial score improves from 2020: Tesla receives an initial quality score of 231 PP100, an improvement of 19 PP100 from 2020. The automaker is not officially ranked among other brands in the study as it doesn’t meet ranking criteria. Unlike other manufacturers, Tesla doesn’t grant J.D. Power permission to survey its owners in 15 states where it is required. However, Tesla’s score was calculated based on a sample of surveys from owners in the other 35 states.

Highest-Ranking Brands and Models

Ram is the highest-ranking brand in overall initial quality for the first time, with a score of 128 PP100. Dodge (139 PP100) ranks second, followed by Lexus (144 PP100)—the highest-ranking premium brand—and Mitsubishi (144 PP100) in a tie, and Nissan (146 PP100).

The parent corporation receiving the most model-level awards is Hyundai Motor Group (seven awards), followed by Toyota Motor Corp. (five); BMW AG (four); Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. (three); and General Motors Co. and Stellantis NV (with two each). Among brands, Kia received the most segment awards (five), followed by BMW (four).

  • Hyundai Motor Group models that rank highest in their respective segments are Genesis G80; Hyundai Accent; Kia Forte; Kia Sedona; Kia Soul; Kia Sportage; and Kia Telluride.
  • Toyota Motor Corp. models that rank highest in their segments are Lexus RC; Lexus RX; Lexus UX; Toyota Sequoia; and Toyota Tundra.
  • BMW AG models that rank highest in their segments are BMW 2 Series; BMW X4; BMW X6; and BMW X7.
  • Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. models that rank highest in their segments are Nissan Altima; Nissan Maxima; and Nissan Murano.
  • General Motors Company models that rank highest in their segments are Cadillac CT5 and Chevrolet Corvette.
  • Stellantis NV models that rank highest in their segments are Jeep Gladiator and Ram 2500/3500.

Plant Quality Awards

Toyota Motor’s Motomachi 2 (Japan) plant, which produces the Lexus LC, received the Platinum Plant Quality Award for producing vehicles with the fewest defects or malfunctions. Plant quality awards are based solely on defects and malfunctions and exclude design-related problems.

Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.’s Smyrna 1 (Tennessee) plant, which produces the Nissan Murano, and BMW AG’s Dingolfing 2 (Germany) plant, which produces the BMW 7 Series and BMW 8 Series, received the Gold Plant Quality Award for the Americas and Europe/Africa regions, respectively.

The 2021 U.S. Initial Quality Study, now in its 35th year, is based on responses from 110,827 purchasers and lessees of new 2021 model-year vehicles who were surveyed early in the ownership period. The study is based on a 223-question battery organized into nine vehicle categories (infotainment; features, controls and displays; exterior; driving assistance; interior; powertrain; seats; driving experience; and climate) designed to provide manufacturers with information to facilitate the identification of problems and drive product improvement. The study was fielded from February through July 2021.

For more information about the U.S. Initial Quality Study, visit http://www.jdpower.com/resource/us-initial-quality-study-iqs.

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