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J.D. Power Initial Quality: Who Cares? Maybe You Should

The results are in, for the annual J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study.

Porsche was the No. 1 brand for the third year in a row, with only 87 reported problems per 100 vehicles, followed by No. 2 Infiniti, No. 3 Lexus, and tied at No. 4, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota, according to the IQS results, which were released June 4.

But does anybody really care? Or should they? The answers are, people don't seem to care that much, but they should.

Many consumers have an understandable tendency to assume that the J.D. Power results are some sort of advertising-related gimmick. Unlike Consumer Reports, which doesn't accept advertising and won't let anybody else advertise its results, the J.D. Power winners in various categories can promote first-place finishes in their advertising.

That's unfortunate, because within the auto industry, the survey results have a big impact. Without Power surveys and the threat of publicity to hold the automakers' feet to the fire, quality almost certainly wouldn't be as good as it is.

Incidentally, the team at J.D. Power does their best to point out that the results are often a tie, statistically speaking. For instance, there's really no significant difference between Infiniti at 98 problems, and Lexus at 99, but the press usually reports the rankings as if they were the photo-finish at a horse race.

The three most important Power surveys are IQS; CSI, for Customer Satisfaction Index, which measures the service experience; and VDS, for Vehicle Dependability Study, which measures quality for 3-year-old cars.

There are lots of other Power surveys that don't get as much press. For instance, they measure loyalty; customer satisfaction with the dealership sales experience; with manufacturer web sites; with high-tech features and gadgets, plus several more.

The IQS results are very closely read inside the industry, brand by brand, model by model and feature by feature, at a high level of detail the public never sees. Especially for all-new or updated models that have been significantly changed, IQS is an important indication of what works or doesn't work, what customers like or dislike, and what needs to be fixed.

No matter how much testing an automaker does ahead of time, it's no substitute for the experience of actual buyers, and it's important to have an alternative to the automakers' own internal surveys.

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