Volvo had very bad news for about 54,000 owners of its cars. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the driver side airbags in S60 and S80 sedans from the 2001 through 2003 model years can rip open and push metal fragments toward the driver. The problem has apparently killed one person. The news should not come as a surprise. Volvo has had problems with vehicle quality, which showed up most recently in two large, widely followed studies.
J.D. Power is the gold standard of consumer research about cars. It does several studies per year, each based on polling tens of thousands of car owners. The most carefully followed of these are the U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study and the Initial Quality Study. The 2020 versions of these were put out earlier this year.
The U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study covers owner impressions of cars they have that are three years old. It asks what their experiences with these have been over the previous 12 months. That means the most recent study covered 2017 models. The questions look at 177 “specific problems” that are grouped into eight categories. Scores are based on problems per 100 vehicles. J.D. Power said responses cover 36,555 original owners.
Volvo ranked fourth from the bottom among 31 brands. Its problems per 100 were put at 185. The average across all models was 134. Genesis had the best score at 89.
Volvo did even worse on the Initial Quality Study. The survey covers driver impressions of new 2020 models over the first 90 days they own those vehicles. It also uses the rank of problems per 100 vehicles. Volvo finished third from the bottom with a score of 210. The average across all models measured was 166. Dodge and Kia were in first place with a score of 136. The study was based on answers from 87,282 purchasers and lessees.
Volvo is considered a luxury brand, which means in the United States it has to compete with market leaders Mercedes, BMW and Audi. Quality is prized, in particular, among owners of these brands and is a primary reason their sales are so robust.
Volvo’s recent recall covers old models. Even so, the publicity is bad. If it wants to turn around the perceptions, it needs to make better cars.