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J.D. Power study finds ACEN technology woes affecting vehicle reliability for consumers

Problems with technology continue to affect vehicle reliability for consumers, according to the J.D. Power 2016 US Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS). The number of problems with infotainment, navigation and in-vehicle communication systems—collectively known as audio, communication, entertainment and navigation or ACEN—has increased and now accounts for 20% of all customer-reported problems in the study.

ACEN is now the most problematic area on most vehicles and is the cause of the industry’s 3% year-over-year decline in vehicle dependability. Key findings of the study included:

  • The overall industry average is 152 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) this year, compared with 147 PP100 last year.

  • Among owners who experienced a Bluetooth pairing/connectivity problem, 53% said the vehicle didn’t find/recognize their mobile phone/device.

  • Among owners who indicate having experienced a voice recognition problem, 67% say the problem was related to the system not recognizing/misinterpreting verbal commands.

  • The number of engine/transmission problems decreased to 24 PP100 in 2016 from 26 PP100 in 2015.

  • Seven of the top 10 problems are design-related. Design-related problems account for 39% of problems reported in the study (60 PP100), a 2-percentage-point increase from 2015.

The 2016 US Vehicle Dependability Study is based on responses from 33,560 original owners of 2013 model-year vehicles after three years of ownership. The study was fielded from October through December 2015.

The study, now in its 27th year, examines problems experienced during the past 12 months by original owners of 2013 model-year vehicles. Overall dependability is determined by the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles (PP100), with a lower score reflecting higher quality. The study covers 177 specific problem symptoms grouped into eight major vehicle categories.

The increase in technology-related problems has two sources. Usability problems that customers reported during their first 90 days of ownership are still bothering them three years later in ever-higher numbers. At the same time, the penetration of these features has increased year over year.

—Renee Stephens, vice president of US automotive at J.D. Power

The problems most often reported by owners are Bluetooth pairing/connectivity and built-in voice recognition systems misinterpreting commands. Navigation system difficult to use and navigation system inaccurate are also among the 10 most frequently reported problems.

While automakers, suppliers and the US government are enthusiastically moving toward putting fully autonomous vehicles on the roads, consumers need to have confidence in the technologies currently in vehicles before they will be willing to take their hands off the wheel of self-driving cars.

If you think about the technology problems from the study in the context of conversations around autonomous vehicles, the industry clearly has more work to do to secure the trust of consumers. Right now, if consumers can’t rely on their vehicle to connect to their smartphone, or have faith that their navigation system will route them to their destination, they’re certainly not yet ready to trust that autonomous technology will keep their vehicle out of the ditch.

—Renee Stephens

Expected reliability remains critical in today’s automotive market. More than 50% of owners cite expected reliability as one of the most influential reasons for choosing a specific make and model. At the same time, concerns about reliability have risen this year as a reason to avoid particular models.

The decline in reliability coupled with a record number of vehicle recalls and safety-related complaints affect consumer confidence. Dependability has a direct impact on purchase decisions and brand loyalty.

—Renee Stephens

Among owners who experienced no problems with their vehicle, 55% purchased the same brand again. In contrast, only 41% of owners who experienced three or more problems with their vehicle stayed with the same brand for their next purchase. Additionally, only a third of owners who had to replace a component outside of normal wear items said they would definitely repurchase or lease the same brand again.

Highest-ranked nameplates and models. Lexus ranked highest in vehicle dependability among all nameplates for a fifth consecutive year, with a score of 95 PP100.

Porsche (97 PP100) followed Lexus in the rankings, moving up from fifth in 2015. Following Porsche in the rankings are Buick (106 PP100), Toyota (113 PP100) and GMC (120 PP100).

General Motors received eight segment awards and Toyota Motor Corporation six. GM models receiving an award include the Buick Encore; Buick LaCrosse; Buick Verano; Chevrolet Camaro; Chevrolet Equinox; Chevrolet Malibu; Chevrolet Silverado HD; and GMC Yukon.

Toyota awardees include the Lexus ES; Lexus GS; Lexus GX; Toyota Prius v; Toyota Sienna; and Toyota Tundra.

Others models to receive segment awards are the Fiat 500; Honda Fit; Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class; MINI Cooper; MINI Coupe/Roadster; and Nissan Murano.


Bob Niland

re: audio, communication, entertainment and navigation or ACEN

In addition to reliability, there are major security, privacy, fee, support life and resale value issues with these largely needless car frills.

Electronics per se cannot be eliminated, of course, as it's crucial for IC engine control, and everything in EV management and operations.

A wise car maker would make the frills [securely] modular and optional, so that buyers like me could omit them.

Anyone who can afford a new car has a smart phone. I have zero use for on-board comm, nav, and ent (other than basic AM radio). A 3.5mm input jack would more than suffice for my audio needs. Anything that requires a subscription is allowed to expire immediately.

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