Fuel economy tech affecting dependability ratings

2011 GMC Sierra

2011 GMC Sierra  (GMC)

The race to increase vehicle fuel economy is taking a toll on quality.

Owners of three-year-old vehicles are reporting more problems than they did a year ago, according to J.D. Power and Associates' annual survey of vehicle dependability. It's the first time since 1998 that the average number of problems per vehicle has increased.

J.D. 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 problems a year ago. Only problems within the prior 12 months are counted.

Automakers are rapidly implementing new engine technology to save fuel, including direct fuel injection and turbocharging, stop-start systems that automatically shut cars down at traffic lights and transmissions with higher gears. But those more complex systems can cause problems. David Sargent, J.D. 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, they've 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 Co. 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.


Brand Problems per 100 vehicles Places up or down from 2013
Lexus 68 0
Mercedes-Benz 104 +3
Cadillac 107 +11
Acura 109 +4
Buick 112 +1
Honda 114 +1
Lincoln 114 -4
Toyota 114 -4
Porsche 125 -7
Infiniti 128 +10
BMW 130 +5
Subaru 131 +3
Chevrolet 132 -1
Jaguar 132 +13
Mazda 132 -4
GMC 133 +1
Industry Average 133 (126 in 2013)
Ford 140 -4
Nissan 142 +1
Audi 151 +4
Kia 151 +1
Volvo 152 +3
Scion 153 -4
Chrysler 155 +3
Volkswagen 158 +4
Ram 165 -14
Mitsubishi 166 +4
Hyundai 169 -5
Jeep 178 +1
Land Rover 179 +3
Dodge 181 +1
Mini 185 -6