On the whole, cars have become more reliable over the past several decades. The average age of an automobile on the road in America is almost 12 years. That rises almost every year. The gulf between the quality problem of cars made in Detroit and the better workmanship of Japanese and German cars has closed. Cars made in South Korea were hardly available two decades ago. Now, two are among the largest companies in the United States, and each has a strong reputation for quality products.
When consumers are asked why they pick one car above another, several factors are almost always present. Often at the top of the list is price. Gas mileage is often another. The conversation quickly moves to what features people want. Overarching all of this, however, is whether a car is considered well made. Research firms probe that differently, but usually the terms come down to “reliability” and “quality.”
The gold standard of research about reliability is the J.D. Power U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study, the 2021 version of which has just been released. This study has reached its 32nd year. The goal of the research is to find out how many problems car brands have per hundred vehicles owned. In the dependability survey, researchers looked at that factor for cars that are three years old. That means this study looks at 2018 models.
The survey covers 177 potential problems. They are grouped into these large categories: “audio/communication/entertainment/navigation (ACEN); engine/transmission; exterior; interior; features/controls/displays (FCD); driving experience; heating, ventilation and air conditioning; and seats.”
The good news for car buyers is that the industry’s dependability continues to improve. Dave Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power, said, “Today’s three-year-old vehicles are of higher quality and more dependable than in previous years.”
The industry average for the 2018 models in the study based on problems per 100 cars was 121. The worst brand for dependability by far was Land Rover, with a score of 244. Next worse, but far better, Alpha Romeo had a score of 196. Jaguar followed at 186.
It may be no coincidence that two of the worst cars for reliability are owned by Jaguar Land Rover Automotive, which is in turn owned by India-based Tata Motors. The quality problems with both Land Rover and Jaguar, each considered a luxury brand, are long-standing.
Land Rover owners pay a great deal for their trouble. The iconic sport utility vehicles are priced between Discovery Sport with a base price of $37,800 and the Range Rover with a price as high as $211,000. Land Rover’s U.S. sales last year totaled 80,034, down 16% year over year.
Land Rover has stiff competition at the high end of the SUV segment, with direct competition from Mercedes, BMW and Lexus all up against it.
Land Rover will be lucky to have a sales recovery this year. It sells low-quality vehicles.