The Cadillac CTS coupe is on display dur
Stan Honda, AFP/Getty ImagesGM's Cadillac brand was one of the biggest gainers in the latest J.D. Power vehicle reliability survey.
By Ben Klayman

DETROIT -- Engine and transmission problems caused quality in the U.S. auto industry to slip for the first time in 16 years in a vehicle dependability study of owners of 3-year-old cars and trucks, falling from last year's record-high levels.

The industry's 2011-model cars, introduced in 2010, the year after sector sales hit a 28-year low during the recession, saw a nearly 6 percent decline in quality to 133 problems per 100 vehicles from 126 last year, according to the J.D. Power U.S. vehicle dependability survey released Wednesday. It was the first increase in the average number of problems since 1998.

General Motors (GM), the No. 1 U.S. automaker, received eight segment awards, tops in the industry, and all four of its brands finished above the industry average. Its luxury Cadillac brand was one of the biggest gainers in the survey, jumping 11 spots to rank as the third most reliable.

The biggest complaints among the more than 41,000 owners surveyed were about engine hesitation, rough transmission shifts and lack of power, but David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power, said a lot of that was due to lack of consumer familiarity with the smaller, less powerful 4-cylinder engines many buy now.

"The manufacturers are starting to recalibrate the engine and transmission to squeeze every last point-one mpg out of the vehicle to help them hit CAFE regulations," he said of the rising federal fuel efficiency standards.

"Some of the manufacturers accept that by doing that there's a compromise," Sargent added. "The consumers complain that the engine and transmission are not responding the way they want."

Engine and transmission problems rose by nearly six per 100 vehicles, accounting for most of the industry's overall increase, and the decline was particularly sharp with 4-cylinder engines, where the number of problems for every 100 vehicles rose by nearly 10, J.D. Power said.

While the automakers will adjust, the issue will continue because of the continued push for greater fuel efficiency, Sargent said.
And this year's results are only just beginning to show the affect of another trend -- the higher penetration of technology like voice recognition and navigation systems. The inclusion of those features will lead to even more complaints.

Toyota Motor's (TM) luxury brand Lexus led in reliability for the third straight year with a score of 68 problems per 100 vehicles, down from 71 last year.

"The gap between them and everyone else is crazy," Sargent said of Lexus. "Mercedes is in second place and they're closer to the average than they are to Lexus. It's like everyone has been lapped by Lexus."

Vehicle dependability is important to automakers because fewer problems translates into more loyal customers. J.D. Power said that 56 percent of owners who don't experience any problems with their vehicles stay with that brand for their next purchase. That loyalty rate slips to 42 percent when three or more problems are experienced.

Sixteen of the 31 brands measured saw their scores decline or remain unchanged in the survey. However, the U.S. domestic nameplates improved at a slightly greater rate than imports, narrowing their scoring gap to eight problems per 100 vehicles with an overall average of 138, down from a gap of 10 last year.

U.S. auto sales rebounded almost 12 percent in 2010, the year after demand hit its lowest level since World War Two and both GM and Chrysler underwent government-sponsored bankruptcies and Ford Motor (F) borrowed heavily to avoid the same fate. Chrysler Group is owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Porsche Falls in Ranks, Infiniti Rises

Following Lexus in the survey were Daimler's Mercedes-Benz brand (104 problems per 100 vehicles), Cadillac (107), Honda Motor's luxury Acura brand (109) and GM's Buick (112). Cadillac cut the number of problems per 100 vehicles by 21 from last year. Ford's luxury Lincoln brand held the top ranking in the 2011 study.

Rounding out the top 10 this year were Honda's (HMC) namesake brand, Lincoln and Toyota's namesake brand (each at 114 problems per 100 vehicles), Porsche (125) and Nissan's luxury Infiniti brand (128). Porsche fell from second last year and saw its problems per 100 vehicles rise by 31, while Infiniti jumped 10 spots in the rankings.

The bottom five scoring brands were Hyundai Motor (169 problems per 100 vehicles), Chrysler's Jeep SUV brand (178), Tata Motors' Land Rover brand (179), Chrysler's Dodge brand (181) and BMW's Mini brand (185). However, Land Rover showed the greatest improvement by any brand, cutting its problems per 100 vehicles by 41.

Among individual models, the Lexus LS and Cadillac DTS luxury sedans both had the strongest dependability in the industry with just 62 problems per 100 vehicles, J.D. Power said. The DTS is no longer built, having been replaced by the XTS. Chrysler's Dodge Journey scored the biggest improvement, cutting its problems by 62.

GM, through its Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC brands, garnered eight segment awards, including the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid electric for the top ranked compact car and the GMC Sierra for the top ranked light- and heavy-duty pickup trucks.

Sargent called GM's performance "impressive," but said the automaker will need to execute equally well with newer vehicles as it has with older models.

Toyota and Honda led in seven and six segments, respectively. The Mini Cooper won the compact sporty car segment.

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Cheap so called lighter weight materials are to blame. Metal is definitely poor quality and is mixed together without concern for it lasting for decades and generally seizes. Also no thought for the high failure componenets such as alternators,batteries,oil filters and even thermostats are hard to remove and install. Engineers gone wild without common sense of the what ifs. The quick complying fuel , A/C and transmission lines suck also with no universal standards and in tight places with no concern for the mechanics that have to free them especially after an anti snow salt/brine bath. Too many plastic componenets that can't take the extreme temperatures and pressures. Also no one doing the proper maintenance that should be done 20% sooner but that affects the cost per year factor . If you own a shift on a 4 cylinder keep RPM's over 2000 to reduce carboning up factor and better MPG.

February 13 2014 at 5:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What really amazes me is the fact that our elected officials let all these junk replacement parts into this country. The quality of the steel used in making these parts sucks. Sure they give you a limited life time warranty, but it still cost you money to replace them again. I even often wonder why lately we see all these ads on TV about certain drugs causing severe problems. Could it be because they are produced in third world country's like Asia, that their guidelines are very lax in quality and proper ingredients. The one company in Asia has been cited 3 times for manufacturing sub par medications, and yet our elected leaders do nothing. Now the company claims they are moving that particular drug back to the U.S. If they was cited three times already, what makes our officials think that they won't try to use other ingredients and less amounts that was intended. If the company did it three times after being cited, they will surely try it again over here. We don't have enough inspectors to over see every drug still produced in this country, even though that's not that many. Heck China sent dog food over here and was poisoning peoples pets. They have shipped kids toys here that were painted with lead base paint, even infants formula shipped here was tainted. The list goes on and on and nobody does anything to protect us. China, Asia and Japan are picking us like vulgarizers picking a caress clean.

February 12 2014 at 9:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If all of this was true all of these great cars why so many RECALLS. and why Subaru was not posted.

February 12 2014 at 8:14 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Chinese parts=poor quality

February 12 2014 at 6:45 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

The auto makers can't make it against unfair trade policies. Some times in order to save money meeting goals or rules the car makers apply a quick fix like was mentioned. You want gas mileage buy a car meant to achieve it.

February 12 2014 at 6:14 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Fuel economy verses power, you really can't have both. With the size of most family type cars, you can have decent fuel economy but performance will suck. The biggest drain on performance is all the BS extras, that manufactures build into their vehicles. Long gone are the days that you ordered exactly what you wanted on your vehicle. Thereby increasing their profit margin, by selling you things you normally would not want on your vehicle. Manufactures don't care as long as they are making a buck. Take for example GM's OnStar installed on every vehicle today. Back in 1999 that was a $1350 option, imagine what the price is today. Traveling long distance across this country, it might be worth it, but very few people travel great distances today. Foreign cars are no different either. All those extras add weight and put a drain on the car's motor to run, thereby affecting performance and fuel economy.

February 12 2014 at 5:44 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Everybody makes a big fuss about the Lexus. I too believe all the hype about how good they are and their outstanding quality. That was until about a year and a half ago, a Jewish lady in Cleveland ran into my 99 Silveradso. The only damage done to my vehicle was, she bent the one flap that holds up my running board and scrapped the paint on my left rear mag type wheel. She was only going approx. 25 miles per hour and in trying to avoid her I moved over close to the curb and practically stopped. Her Lexus suffered severe front end damage to the nose piece and left front fender. What really blew my mind was her tie rod broke, and was laying on the pavement. Even the one officer stated he couldn't believe it broke, for a accident so small. The most damage to my pick-up was scuffing the paint on my rear wheel.

February 12 2014 at 5:26 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

My first new car was a 66 Ford Mustang, It never had a smooth idle and I began to keep one foot on the gas at all times just to keep it running. My next was a 68 Ford Fairlane Fastback. The doors were frozen shut a week after I took it home and continued to freeze shut every time it dropped below freezing at night. It had no power and with my foot to the floor it could barely top 35 going uphill. It burned the front tires off after only 10,000 miles.

I switched to Chrysler products after that, buying a 70 Dodge Coronet and fared no better. The driver's side door stuck out 1/2 inch from the body when closed and moving the striker didn't help. I had to actually redrill and relocate the strike myself. Then it bagan surging at idle and carburetor rebuilding didn't help. It had a crack in the intake manifold that was causing the problem. I traded it in on a 73 Charger that ticked like an old typewriter after 40,000 miles and started with an ongoing hesitation problem that nobody could solve.
Fonally, I started buying GM. I had a 72 Cutlass, a 1980 Cutlass, and now an 89 Caprice Classic that I plan on keeping forever. No problems with any of them!

February 12 2014 at 4:10 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to boowah's comment

Wow... I have a 1968 Mustang that I still drive on a daily basis, I had a 1967 Ford Fairlane 500 GT with a 390...great car, wish I still had it. The doors freezing shut should have been an easy fix, they made a lubricant for cold weather...even rubbing good old 3 in 1 oil on the door gaskets would have stopped it... How did you burn the front tires off on a rear wheel drive car?

February 13 2014 at 12:22 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Quality or quantity?

February 12 2014 at 3:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Engine "performance" is a much changed category. My 2013 Honda CR-V gets upwards of 35mpg on the highway but the highly efficient little 4 banger under the hood has to huff and puff its way up any incline and anyone on a bicycle can drop me at a stop light!

February 12 2014 at 3:35 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to car4068043's comment

Don\'t use that ECO feature in the city, only on the Freeway.

February 12 2014 at 5:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply