If you are wondering, as I have been lately, whether cars are more reliable or not, the answer is “yes,” at least according to J.D. Power and Associates’ 2011 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study. They are, and they are not. Overall vehicle dependability improved from 2010. Automakers are succeeding in reducing problem rates in many traditional areas, such as vehicle interiors, engines and transmissions, and steering and braking. That’s the good news.
On the not so good side, the research firm said automakers are “experiencing some challenges in overcoming problems with newer technologies and features.” It said a “slowdown in improvement” can be attributed to increased rates of problems with electronic features, including audio, entertainment and navigation systems and new safety features, such as tire pressure monitoring systems.
“…as manufacturers add new features and technologies to satisfy customer demand and new legislation, they face the potential for introducing new problems,” says David Sargent, J.D. Power’s vice president of global vehicle research. Obviously to some extent they achieve that potential, and even if a malfunction doesn’t affect the way a car runs – leave somebody stranded at the side of the road – it can still be maddening.
But it’s not really a surprise. Electrical/electronic features account for as much as 40 percent of the cost of a new car these days. The number of electronic control units is climbing quickly and the number of lines of code in a car today is through the roof. Cars are infinitely more complex and feature rich. Network nodes on wheels. What’s surprising is that automotive electronics features work as well as they do.
That doesn’t happen by itself. Systems engineering standards and processes, relatively new in the auto industry, are continuing to improve, and so are support tools. More work needs to be done. There will always be room for improvement.