After years lagging the imports, General Motors has surged to the top of the charts in the 2013 J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey, the most influential measure of vehicle quality during the first months off the showroom lot.
The new study also reveals that, on the whole, the quality of this year's cars, trucks and crossovers actually declined a bit from 2012—a decline largely the result of design-related problems that, for the most part, can't be resolved at the dealership.
Issues related to the latest infotainment systems and other high-tech devices are the single largest source of these buyer headaches, according to J.D. Power.
On the positive side, "Manufacturers are doing a lot better when it comes to engines and chassis and other mechanical systems," explained Dave Sargent, the head of automotive research for California-based J.D. Power & Associates. "Most of the problems people are now reporting involve the latest technology."
Two out of every three problems reported by the 83,000 owners and lessees who participated in the latest study were tech-based. While that includes such electromechanical devices as electronic suspensions and cruise-control systems, the bulk of the complaints involved systems like Ford's much maligned MyFordTouch system, said Sargent, noting that owners were particularly frustrated by:
- User interfaces that made it difficult to do even the simplest tasks, such as changing temperature or tuning the radio
- Voice control systems that couldn't understand commands or executed them incorrectly
- Systems that would not pair with a motorist's smartphone
Such issues are particularly problematic as "few can be fixed," Sargent noted, without major upgrades from the factory.
(Read More: Ford Will Cut Factory CO2 Emissions 30 percent)
Problems with electronic systems have been rapidly increasing in recent years, overtaking excess wind and road noise as the single-biggest complaint on the IQS study. J.D. Power completely revised its survey form for 2013 to account for this shift and to allow consumers to provide more information that, ultimately, might help manufacturers deal with these problems.
The research firm took steps to make it possible to compare the 2013 IQS results with those from past years, and according to Sargent, the rate of complaints, counted as problems per 100 vehicles, surged by more than 10 percent. The industry average in 2012 was 102 PP100. This time that rose to an adjusted 113 problems per 100.