The way in which technology is integrated into new-vehicle design, particularly interior features and controls, is considered by consumers to be as important to quality as are defects and malfunctions, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2006 Initial Quality Study (IQS) released today. The study is in its 20th year.

The Initial Quality Study, which serves as the industry benchmark for new-vehicle quality measured at 90 days of ownership, has been completely redesigned for 2006 to capture problems experienced by owners in two distinct categories-quality of design and quality of production (defects and malfunctions).

"New vehicles today are often packed with new technologies that unfortunately can be complicated and frustrating for the average consumer when their integration is not well executed," said Joe Ivers, executive director of quality and consumer satisfaction research for JD Power and Associates. "In the eyes of consumers, design flaws can have as much of an impact on their perceptions of quality as can defect. Yet, many manufacturers have tended to address quality solely on the plant floor without considering design factors."

Based on both design quality and production quality considerations, the study finds that automakers can vary widely in their performance on these two components. Brands with the fewest defects and malfunctions include BMW, Chrysler, Hyundai, Lexus, Porsche, and Toyota. Brands with the fewest design problems include GMC, Hyundai, Jaguar, Lexus, Nissan and Porsche.

"Without considering both quality factors, one might fail to recognize vehicles that are, in fact, excellent in certain ways," said Ivers. "For example, BMW vehicles have among the fewest defects and malfunctions, along with Toyota. But BMW approaches controls and displays in a way that creates some problems for customers, leading to more design-related problems overall than Toyota incurs. Automakers differ significantly in how they define quality and what parts of the organization they hold accountable for it. Clearing both critical quality hurdles is an accomplishment experienced by only a limited number of brands."

2006 IQS Ranking Highlights
Lexus and Toyota models continue to dominate initial quality rankings, capturing 11 of 19 segment awards in 2006. Lexus models rank highest in every segment in which they compete. In addition, the LS 430 ties the Porsche Cayman for having the fewest quality problems in the industry. Other top-ranking Lexus models include: IS 250/IS350, ES330, SC430, GX470, and LX470.

Toyota remains a quality benchmark, capturing five model-level awards-for the Corolla, Solara, Camry, Highlander and Sequoia-more than any other non-luxury brand.

Porsche and Lexus lead he luxury brands, while Hyundai, Toyota and Honda set he pace among non-luxury brands. Averaging just 91 problems per100 (PP100) vehicles, Porsche tops the overall nameplate rankings. Porsche's success can be partly attributed to the all-new Cayman, which tops the compact premium sporty segment. Porsche is followed in the rankings by Lexus, Hyundai, Toyota and Jaguar, respectively.

Hyundai ranks among the top three nameplates in the study for the first time in the history of IQS. Highlights include a top ranking for the Hyundai Tucson in the compact multi-activity vehicle (MAV) segment, and top three segment performances for the redesigned Sonata and all-new Azera, as well as the Elantra and Tiburon.

Honda also maintains its position as a quality leader. Although Honda does not receive any awards outright, five Honda models rank among the top three of their respective segments.

Other nameplates receiving model awards in 2006 include Chevrolet, Chrysler, Ford, Kia, Mazda, Pontiac and Suzuki.

Assembly Plant Awards

Toyota also receives a total of four assembly plant quality awards for producing vehicles yielding the fewest defects, including the Platinum Plant Quality Award for its Iwate, Japan, plant, producer of the Lexus ES330. The Iwate plant averages just 32 PP100. Plant awards are based solely on scores for defects.

Among North and South Amercian Plants, the General Motors Oshawa #2 plant in Ontario, Canada, which produces the Buick La Crosse and Pontiac Grand Prix, receives the Gold Plant Award for a second consecutive year. Toyota's Georgetown, KY., plant, which produces the Avalon, Camry and Solara Coupe/Convertible, and DaimlerChrsyler's Windsor, Ontario, Canada plant, which produces the Pacifica, Town & Country, Caravan and Grand Caravan, tie for the Silver Plant Quality Award.

In the Asia Pacific Region, Toyota's Hgashi-Fuji, Japan Plant which produces the Lexus SC430, receives the Silver Plant Quality Award. Toyota's Kyushu, Japan, plant which produces the Lexus IS250/IS350, Lexus RX330/400h and Toyota Highlander/Highlander Hybrid, and American Honda's Satima, Japan plant tie for the Bronze Plant Quality Award.

Magna Styer, the Graz, Austria, plant that assembles under contract for traditional manufacturers receives the Gold Plant Quality Award for Europe. Magna Steyr produces the BMW X3, Mercedes Benz E-Class/Wagon and the Saab 9-3 Convertible. BMW's Dingolfing, Germany Plant, which produces the BMW 5, 6 and 7 Series, receives the Silver Plant Quality Award, and Porsche's Valment, Finland plant, which produces the Cayman and Boxster, receives the Bronze Plant Quality Award.

The 2006 Initial Quality Study is based on responses from 63,607 purchasers and lessees of new 2006 model-year cars and trucks surveyed after 90 days of ownership. The redesigned IQS is based on a new 217-questions battery-up from 135 in previous years-to provide manufacturers with richer information to improve problem determination and drive product improvement. The study also groups models in a revised J.D. Power and Associates vehicle segmentation list.

The 2006 study has been redesigned for the first time since 1998. Improvements to the study include:
An enhanced questionnaire for owners to aid in identification of both defect and design problems
Expanded coverage of new techonologies
Additional details about the the problems reported to help OEMs better identify how to address them