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 car with the best ranking was the Lexus, made by the luxury division of Toyota. Its problems per 100 car rating was 81. Lexus has been the most dependable car in the survey in nine of the past 10 years.
Lexus was followed by mass-market brand Kia with 86. At the far end of the spectrum, Land Rover had an extraordinarily high 244 problems per vehicle.
Lexus was first brought into the United States in 1989. Car experts were skeptical that it could compete with market sales and quality leaders BMW and Mercedes. It has not only done so but in most years outsells both the German car companies.
Like most successful car companies, particularly in the luxury market, Lexus has a wide range of vehicles and price points that range from just above $30,000 to well over $100,000. Lexus markets four sedans, eight sport utility vehicles, four coupes and four performance cars. It also offers hybrid versions of several of them.
Lexus sales have remained strong. The company sold 19,641 units in January, one of its better years in the past decade. With year after year of dependability scores, that trend should continue.