Tesla's Initial Quality Still Sucks While Ram Reigns Supreme

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Only two brands performed worse than Tesla.

There are several factors that count towards a brand's perceived reliability, including the number of recalls, number of complaints, and warranty coverage. But there's another metric that annually ranks new cars based on the number of issues per 100 vehicles reported by owners. The J.D. Power Initial Quality Study (IQS) has become somewhat of a benchmark for quality in years gone by, and the 2021 results have just come in, with a few surprises in the results. Ram, for example, has come out at the top of all brands, scoring 128 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100), buoyed by the fact that the Ram 2500/3500 picked up the win in the large heavy-duty pickup category. Dodge finished in second at 139 PP100, and Lexus and Mitsubishi tied in third at 144 PP100. At the other end of the scale, Chrysler, Audi, and Tesla have floundered at 251, 240, and 231 PP100, respectively.

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Smartphone Connectivity The Biggest Issue

Overall, new-vehicle quality improved by 2% compared to 2020, lower than the 3% average improvement over the last ten years. The main issue resulting in the downturn appears to be related to new infotainment systems, as the largest number of complaints related to smartphone connectivity.

Dave Sargent, VP of automotive quality at J.D. Power claims that "owners are caught in the middle when vehicle and phone technologies don't properly connect," saying that there's been an "increase in connectivity problems between smartphones and vehicles, leaving many owners unhappy."

One in four complaints and six of the top ten problems were all infotainment-related. For the first time since 2011, voice recognition isn't the issue, but rather Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity - particularly in vehicles with wireless functionality for either platform.

"Owners want wireless connectivity, and the industry has responded," Sargent said. "However, this has created a bigger technical challenge for both automakers and tech companies. Automakers generally are the ones facing the wrath of owners, but this is definitely a shared problem."

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Mainstream Brands Dominate

In the overall brand rankings, mainstream brands once again outshone premium brands. Lexus was the highest placed of the latter grouping, placing third, buoyed by models like the Lexus RC, RX, and UX ranking highest in their individual segments. Genesis (148 PP100) and Mini (151 PP100) were the only other premium brands to score below the industry average of 162, with Lincoln (163), Porsche (163), Jaguar (165), BMW (166), Infiniti (170), Cadillac (173), Mercedes-Benz (193), Acura (200), Land Rover (200) Alfa Romeo (204), Volvo (210) and Audi (240) all scoring well above average. Audi was the second-worst officially-ranked brand, only beaten by Chrysler (251), despite the Chrysler 300 ranking second in the Large Car category.

Tesla's dismal 231 PP100 score - an improvement of 19 from last year - would place the brand third-to-last, except Tesla doesn't grant J.D. Power permission to survey its owners in 15 states, making the brand ineligible for an official ranking. However, as Tesla doesn't produce vehicles at a multitude of plants, it's likely those 15 states would encounter the same issues.

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Individual Model Results

As far as individual models go, the Hyundai Motor Group had the most awards with seven vehicles including the Kia Sedona, Soul, Sportage, Telluride, and Forte, the Hyundai Accent, and the Genesis G80. Toyota Motor Corp took home five category awards with the Lexus RC, RX, UX, Toyota Sequoia, and Tundra, while BMW took four wins with the 2 Series, X4, X6, and X7, despite a less-than-stellar overall score for the brand. The Nissan Maxima was one of three Nissan products to pick up awards alongside the Murano and Altima and received the best score of any model this year at just 85 PP100.

Other notable individual victories included the Jeep Gladiator picking up the Midsize Truck award, despite Jeep finishing ninth overall, while the Chevrolet Corvette was rated as the highest-ranked Premium Sporty Car, despite numerous quality issues making headlines over the last year including faulty frunk lids and skew stitching on the dash, beating out the Porsche 718 and Lexus LC.

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