It seems that this is nothing new. All through the 80's, 90's, and beyond, the reliability of the Toyota and Honda is what drove them to compete with the BIG 3! Do not get me wrong, as my Avatar suggests, I love American cars (especially the older ones). But realistically, when I shop for a used car, I go straight to Toyota or Honda. Why? They still have good life left in them even after 100K or more. I have purchased many mid 80 and 90's American cars and all had issues after about the 100K mark. None of it really mechanical, but the plastic, the electronics, the paint, the interiors all turn to crap. Yet, a 1998 Corolla still looks good and everything works (250K)! The only other vehicle that got 250K for me was a Suburban. But at today's gas price, who can afford to drive (on a regular basis) anything that big?
I do think Ford and GM are designing with the CAFE in mind (though I think their cars are still too big to meet the standards). Charles is continually showing DN readers the innovations that are driving these designs and the Asians may find themselves behind. But for now, I like the if it ain't broke... approach.
Interesting, Chuck, that the automakers with the best reliability records are those that are carrying over their previous designs. While we praise innovation, especially in these days where automakers are preparing for strict CAFE standards, there's a price to be paid for innovation. Apparently that price is reliability.
Yes, there is a price to be paid for innovation, Rob. I suppose it comes down to the market: Is the consumer willing to pay that price? Jake Fisher of Consumer Reports said, "The European market is more willing to forgive reliability issues. They are more about being on the cutting edge of technology."
Personally, I'd take the reliability over the cutting edge technology. Taking the car in for repairs, especially on a regular basis, gets to be too big an inconvenience.
Consumer Reports gives five ratings: Much better than average; better than average; average, worse than average; much worse than average. The photos shown in our slideshow (with one exception) fall in the top or bottom categories.
"Much better than average" vehicles in our slideshow: Toyota RAV4; Nissan Leaf; Honda CR-V; Toyota Prius; Honda Fit; Toyota Camry Hybrid; Lexus CT 200h; Toyota 4Runner.
"Much worse than average" vehicles in our slideshow: Ford Focus; BMW 7 Series; Chrysler 300; Volkswagen Beetle; Dodge Grand Caravan; Nissan Armada; Ford Edge; Buick LaCrosse; Ford Explorer V-6 4WD.
The one exception in our slideshow was the Cadillac CTS. We posted it because it was the highest-rated American car. Even so, it did not make the top category. Consumer Reports rated it "better than average."
The Prius series has been very reliable from day one and is the groundbreaker for the hybrid genre (Honda's Insight, while cool, went nowhere). For generations the domestics were regurgitating the same designs and lagging behind more advanced Japanese vehicles in reliability.
Ford got squashed primarily by it's new infotainment system-it's been a disaster. It's a matter of rushing in one substandard system-IMO-across the board, rather than a general failure in vehicle systems.
It is difficult to veiw any of the Lexus vehicles, for instance, as being low-tech yet they are consistently at the top.
For now I retain the impression that better engineering is a strong part of the reliability equation.
Very interesting article. It would seem that the pursuit of innovation actually penalizes automotive reliability. However, if manufacturers don't innovate at all, their market share will erode. I suppose innovation should be done strategically and incrementally so that a manufacturer can try to advance their product offerings, while still keeping reliability risk at a minimum.
@Greg: I think Consumer Reports is wrong about this one. As @Bunter pointed out, if Japanese automakers aren't innovative, how do you explain the Toyota Prius? The idea that "good engineering" and "sound design philosophy" are two different things is flawed. If your design philosophy isn't sound, you will not make good engineering decisions. What the report really shows is that U.S. companies are not doing as good of a job at bringing new ideas into mass production without problems.
Reflecting overnight I find I still disagree with the articles reasoning (see my comments at "Hmmm...".
He points to items like 8-speed transmissions in the German cars yet Lexus has used an 8-speed for years. IIRC it was the first 8-speed on the market. Why has the innovation leader been more reliable?
Look at variable valve timing-the Japanese lead in this innovation and kept leading in reliability.
Hybrids as I mentioned before-the Japanese lead the way and theirs are the most reliable-from the start.
When Ford introduced the Fusion it was a fresh sheet design and proved very reliable. New worked then-why not now?
There are plenty of American and European vehicles that are very "mature" designs yet they are not outstanding in reliability. They don't show up in the top category-where some very innovative Japanese cars reside. This guy really needs to look at his own organizations data.
Fischer's comment on the the Accords displacement is nonsense-an engine maybe completely redesigned and have the same displacement or get an aftermarket overbore with no design input at all.
Typically the japanese manufacturers tend to have shorter model changes turnovers which may make them look more incremental but it seems to me that there is little actual connection between innovation and reliability. Old tech or new it looks like good engineering and manufacturing execution are the keys to reliability.
All in all I think this guys conclusions are based on a pretty wobbly bit of reasoning.
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