GM Tops J.D. Power IQS Thanks To Old Cars and Not Actually Measuring Quality

Yesterday’s news that GM had topped the J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Survey (IQS) came as a surprise to many observers.  GM earned a well-deserved reputation over the past several decades as a seller of crappy cars littered with quality problems (though 1990s Buicks tended to do pretty well in this same survey).  Had someone told me a few years ago that in 2013 GM would occupy the top spot in the survey, I would have found it hard to believe.  Well, pigs are flying and GM is on top.  Now let’s look at some of the reasons why.

GM brought home eight top ranking models:

  • Large Car:  Chevrolet Impala
  • Mid-Size Sporty Car:  Chevrolet Camaro/Ford Mustang (tie)
  • Large SUV:  Chevrolet Tahoe
  • Sub-Compact SUV:  Buick Encore/Kia Sportage (tie)
  • Large Premium SUV:  Cadillac Escalade
  • Large Pickup:  Chevrolet Avalanche/GMC Sierra
  • Large Heavy Duty Pickup:  Chevrolet Silverado HD

Know what’s common among the eight GM models listed?  Almost all of them – the Impala, Tahoe, Escalade, Avalanche, and Sierra – are on their final model year before a redesign (or discontinuation in the case of the Avalanche).  The Silverado HD has been on the market for several years and any bugs have surely been ironed out.  The 5th generation Camaro is more than halfway through its life cycle, having hit the market for the 2010 model year.  Only the Encore is a new vehicle, and it’s a relatively simple one.

So don’t break out the champagne just yet.  With more technology added to the full-size trucks and to the 2014 Impala than their predecessors had, it’s a decent bet that the 2014 J.D. Power IQS will show different results for these models.

The other thing, and this is as well-known critique of J.D. Power’s methodology, is that the so-called Initial Quality Survey isn’t actually measuring quality.  Well, it is, but not only quality.  Because there really aren’t many quality problems with new cars per se, so J.D. Power invented the notion of categorizing design problems as “quality problems.”  A design problem could be something as simple as an ill-informed buyer not knowing how to use the voice activated features in his car’s navigation system.

Design problems – real or imagined – are so prevalent in the IQS that (according to J.D. Power itself) nearly two thirds of the “problems” with new cars were design-related.  The cars that won their category – at least the GM vehicles listed above – by and large have simple electronics (no touchscreens in most of the pickups, Tahoe, or the Impala, for instance) and are relatively simple mechanically.  The automaker who has arguably invested most heavily in in-car infotainment choices that consumers demand – Ford – is notably absent from the list of winners.  Blame MyFord Touch, again, for that showing.  Hey, BMW eventually figured out iDrive; perhaps Ford will do the same for MyFord Touch.

With design problems polluting the survey results, Power should separate the results into two separate surveys – one for design problems (which can be resolved with better coaching from dealer staff, better designs, or removing high-tech accessories from the option list) and one for true quality problems like door panels falling off.

Congratulations are due to GM for its performance in this year’s survey.  Now let’s see what happens next year.

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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1 Comment

  1. For auto buying advice my first consideration is auto journalism (thank you to you and your peers) and not owner surveys. I know I myself sometimes bend the truth a little on surveys.

    The last GM car I owned was a ’90 Chevrolet Corsica bought new. I believe this was considered the bread and butter car for GM at that time. I should have done more (some!) research prior to my bout of misplaced NA brand loyalty. I mean – I could have had a Honda! The Corsica was a wood-stove simple design and was still a lemon – and stayed that way. I also get to rent a lot of cars and I can state that GM products have not improved relative to other brands.

    It was interesting to note that when I did such research later (Lemon Aid Guide) all the design flaws in the Corsica remained prevalent for the ENTIRE model production. I wonder if GM worries about running out of good model names every time they have to bury another one. (Aside: I think the Koreans give their car silly names. It must be hard to find a good one.)

    Since(?) then, I believe, GM has positioned itself as mostly a low-price car company who still make their money on trucks.

    Does this mean that GM is finally responding to customer complaints? Or does it mean that customers lie on surveys? (“Lie” is such a strong word. Let’s say they are not as forthcoming as they think they are.) Just how demanding are the people who buy bargain priced autos? And does anybody want to admit they made a mistake? I believe that unless you truly have a reason to hate your purchase and you come from polite society there may be a positive bias in your answers. (Do people who buy Mercedes generally complain more than people who buy Chevrolets? I can guess the general public survey answer to that one!) Is age a factor? Are older owners less likely to criticize? My mother will not let my father buy her a new car because she thinks her ’89 Tempo is as good as it gets. (Yes, their children are all a little embarrassed.)

    I also recall Jermey Clarkson remarking that people who buy Kias buy Kias because they don’t know how to drive and don’t care that they don’t know how to drive. I would bet dollars against dirt that he has a similar opinion of GM automobile drivers. That’s not my point but I find it funny. Kia owners probably not so much but maybe they don’t watch Top Gear. (I am NOT going to say maybe they should.)

    The more an acquisition costs, relative to market average, the more demanding the purchaser. (I have heard this argument also used for why luxury car owners feel more entitled to intentionally drive badly.) I propose that inexpensive cars bring lower expectations and perhaps better survey results.

    (And I hate infotainment systems in cars. Apart from being 100% profit with little to offer, they become obsolete the day before they went into the car. The same can be said for navigation systems. I can buy 10 very nice handheld GPS units for what my dealer wants to update the one in my Lexus. And those now now have better screens. So how much regret/remorse goes into skewing survey results of those models so equipped.)

    So I agree. Let’s do surveys just as you suggest. Also, let’s ask how many other cars the owners have actually been in since they bought their current model as well as some questions to gauge “politeness” – just to put it all in perspective. And let’s not put too much emphasis on customer satisfaction surveys. The manufacturers do that so much already that the consumer already believes the results are paid for.

    Thanks for your article.

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