Honda remained the top non-luxury brand in the J.D. Power and Associates initial-quality report that was released Wednesday, but it dropped from second to fifth place on the overall list as other brands improved more than it did.
The newly designed CR-V, assembled in East Liberty, Ohio, was the only Honda named best in its segment. Last year, seven Honda vehicles took top segment honors.
Honda “continues to have a solid performance,” said Raffi Festekjian, director of automotive research for J.D. Power. But he added, the pace of the company’s improvement “was not at the same rate as the industry improved.”
He said the CR-V’s strong showing is exceptional because the vehicle is a new design. Only one other segment leader, the Toyota Yaris subcompact, shares that distinction.
Overall quality improved for the industry as a whole, with an average of 102 problems per 100 vehicles in the first three months of ownership, the study found.
Honda’s score also improved, with 83 problems reported, down from 86 last year. Several other automakers’ scores improved even more, however, with Lexus, Jaguar, Porsche and Cadillac each performing better than Honda. Lexus was the top scorer in both years.
Acura, the Honda-owned luxury brand, had 84 problems reported, down from 89 last year. The new score ranks it right behind Honda for sixth in the industry.
Honda officials applauded the results, which are the best scores Honda or Acura have ever received. In addition to the CR-V leading its segment, five Hondas and two Acuras placed second in their segments.
The scores demonstrate “our consistent commitment to deliver quality for our customers,” said Tetsuo Iwamura, president and CEO of American Honda Motor Co., in a statement.
Some of consumers’ greatest hassles are with on-board electronics such as entertainment and navigation systems, which now account for more problems than any other area. This is the first time in the study’s 26-year history that electronics have had such prominence.
Innovative technology “will quickly create dissatisfaction if owners can’t get it to work,” said Dave Sargent, vice president of global automotive for J.D. Power.
One of Honda’s assembly lines in Suzuka, Japan, had the fewest problems of any in the world. The line makes the CR-Z compact hybrid and Fit subcompact.
Honda’s first line in Marysville was rated second-best in the Americas, behind a Toyota line in Canada. The Marysville plant assembles the Accord and several Acura models.
The results are based on survey responses from about 74,000 people who have purchased 2012 model-year cars or trucks.
Ford Motor Co. executives also reacted to the J.D. Power report.
Ford, working to fix faulty dashboard touch screens, said the software upgrades offered to customers came too late to improve quality scores.
Bennie Fowler, Ford’s group vice president of global quality, told reporters in Dearborn, Mich.: “The dramatic improvement we’re expecting will come in the third quarter and, hopefully, we’ll see that in” next year’s survey.
Touch screens have lowered Ford’s quality scores. The automaker’s namesake brand tumbled to 23rd from fifth in Westlake Village, Calif.-based J.D. Power’s survey last year. The company’s Lincoln luxury brand dropped from above average to below, ranking 17th.
Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally has made technology a pillar of a turnaround plan. Fuel-efficient, turbocharged engines and features such as voice-activated phones have attracted younger customers and pushed up prices. U.S. buyers paid an average of $31,995 for Ford’s models in the first quarter, up 26 percent from 2002, according to the automotive website Edmunds.com.
Ford in March sent a software upgrade to 377,000 customers with the MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch dashboard controls.
The upgrade included faster touch responses, simpler graphics, enhanced voice recognition and improved phone controls, said Jim Farley, Ford’s global marketing chief. Ford plans a further enhancement with the next upgrade so that outside temperature is displayed on the home screen, he said.
“The idea of an upgradeable car is right here, right now,” Farley said earlier in the week at a press conference. “We have a lot more to do as an industry and as Ford, but we’re headed in the right direction.”
Ford has said its quality performance this year will be “mixed” and fall short of its goal to improve on last year. The company has said it’s receiving complaints about a fuel-saving new transmission used in its Focus and Fiesta small cars.
The automaker’s touch-screen dashboard controls still receive poor marks from owners, even after improving the software, said David Champion, auto-test chief with Consumer Reports magazine.
“They need to get these innovations right or just dump ’em,” Champion said in a June 12 interview. “They’ve improved them slightly, but they’re still not right.”
Other than the high-tech features, Ford’s basic quality remains good, Champion said. The automaker is seeing a reduction in the “basic things that break,” Fowler said.
“We’ve seen about a 40 percent improvement in our repair rate from this time last year,” Fowler said. “So we’re back on track in that regard.”
Warranty claims on MyFord Touch also have declined as Ford offered the software upgrades, Fowler said. Some of the problems have been caused by Ford customers not understanding the technology, he said.
“We’re working on continuing to explain to our customers how to use the technologies,” Fowler said. “We’re also going to continue to refine all of our software to better listen to what the customer is saying.”