Luxury nameplates are increasingly feeling the hot breath of mass-market brands on the nape of their necks. J.D. Power and Associates’ 2006 Vehicle Dependability Survey, released Wednesday, shows that the breach in long-term quality between luxury and non-luxury cars is closing rapidly, shrinking in half over the last four years.
That’s very likely a result of increasing use of shared platforms, which can endow less expensive cars with the characteristics and driving dynamics of retired luxury vehicles. For instance, DaimlerChrysler’s wildly successful Chrysler 300 C is based on an older platform built by Mercedes-Benz and some Ford vehicles share elements with Volvos. "In general," says Neal Oddes, J.D. Power’s director of product research and analysis, "we’re seeing that platform sharing is paying off since the practice distributes similar benefits to multiple models."
Old favorites have, nevertheless, stayed strong. Cadillac improved its standings, moving from fifth to fourth place. Despite the looming burden of more and more costly recalls, Toyota continues to dominate rankings. Not only was it fifth in the overall rankings, four individual vehicles from its luxury division Lexus and four Toyota-badged vehicles took top spots in the segment rankings.
Domestic manufacturers have largely managed to pull ahead of the industry average. Of the 13 brands that ranked ahead of that average, the majority were American. In fact, six were U.S.-based brands, five Japanese, and of the other two, one was German and one was British. Chrysler, Pontiac, and GMC, meanwhile, clung close to the industry average but did not do better.
There were some dramatic gains and losses, as well. Porsche, most notably, which took second place in last year’s results, dropped a whopping 20 slots. MINI and Kia improved the most, 27 percent and 22 percent respectively, though both rank below the industry average. Kia’s progress in recent years has been notable for improving twice as much as any competitor in the last three years. Of the five least-dependable brands, four were imports. Land Rover, at the bottom of the list, was a shocking 26 percent worse than the next worst, Saab.
At a glance, the list may appear obsolete. After all, the best-performing subcompact and entry premium cars aren’t even available anymore. But, the results of such surveys still impact consumer opinions, especially during the buying process. Oddes says mass-market brands can leverage dependability results with potential customers. "The manufacturers have taken our data very seriously and are trying to get quality into the initial design process," he says.