There's more to vehicle quality than just a measurement of things gone wrong. All aspects of the experience of buying, owning and driving a vehicle interact to form an overall impression on customers.
That overall experience includes the emotional responses the vehicle elicits, as well as its tangible attributes and factors such as reliability.
Understanding the holistic nature of that overall quality perception is the premise behind Strategic Vision's Total Quality Index (TQI) study, which the California-based consumer research firm has conducted annually since 1995.
Total Quality measures how closely the experience of quality matches the explicit desires of the customer, according to Strategic Vision.
"Even when ‘just' counting problems, perception is involved," says Strategic Vision president , Alexander Edwards.
"One buyer may overlook what another may report," he explains. "With Total Quality, we factor in all the perceptions that are proven to create the impression of Total Quality; this is ultimately how people think about vehicles and spend money."
Toyota (including Lexus and Scion) had the lowest level of reported problems in the study, resulting in Strategic Vision's lowest "Problem Impact Measure" (PIM) score of 4.29. That metric examines the report of the problem, the nature (serious, moderate or minor) of the problem, and the nature of the problem unresolved by dealer.
In terms of Total Quality, however Volkswagen Group (including Audi) is the leading corporation, followed by a tie between Ford and Chrysler Group.
Volkswagen's Total Quality strength centres on segment leaders that include Golf, Eos and Tiguan, as well as Audi segment leaders A4 and A8.
Ford Motor Company finished second (tied with Chrysler) based on strong segment rankings and leadership from Flex, F-150 and F-250/350.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the most improved corporation – Chrysler. "They are definitely beginning to turn things around," says Darrel Edwards, Strategic Vision chairman and founder.
"The Fiat 500 (Small Car Segment winner) is just one example," he adds. "Attributes like Fiat 500's Exterior Styling and Workmanship, and even Sound Systems, all become part of the Total Quality equation when one explicitly captures the heart and mind of how customer's think."
Other Chrysler brands ranked at the top of their segments included Dodge Charger and redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee.
"Full-line corporations like Toyota and American Honda Motor are as strong as ever in terms of percentages of people reporting problems. It's just that others are doing such a great job also, and they have excelled in providing the kind of innovation that influences perceptions of quality," says Strategic Vision vice-president Christopher Chaney.
"Look at the Chevrolet Volt," he continues. "It may not be a sales leader, but those who purchased it were heavily influenced by a number of quality cues that made it a segment leader in Total Quality."
Strategic Vision research has proven that those most new car buyers recognize and acknowledge innovation and are not just driven by counting problems.
With all manufacturers being in such close traditional quality proximity (based on counting problems only), Strategic Vision says if innovation is strong, especially such that customers can say they "love it," then perceptions of quality will be greatly (positively) influenced.
Which is perhaps why some of the category winners in the TQI rankings are quite different from those that typically take top quality honours in other rankings.
Following is a complete listing of the number-one ranked vehicles in Total Quality in their segments as rated by 45,390 buyers who purchased 2012 models during September to December 2011:
Segment Winner(s) TQI Score
Small Car Fiat 500 Hatchback 869
Small Multi-Function Volkswagen Golf 874
Mid-Size Car Chevrolet Volt 913
Mid-Size Multi-Function Honda Accord Crosstour 879
Large Car Dodge Charger 911
Near-Luxury Car Audi A4 Sedan 917
Luxury Car Audi A8 Sedan 942
Specialty Coupe Mini Cooper Coupe 926
Premium Coupe BMW 1-Series Coupe 922
Chevrolet Corvette Coupe 921
Convertible Volkswagen Eos 902
Premium Convertible BMW Z4 Roadster 938
Minivan Honda Odyssey 872
Entry Utility Volkswagen Tiguan 877
Mid-Size Crossover Ford Flex 888
Mid-Size SUV Jeep Grand Cherokee 888
Large SUV Nissan Armada 900
Near-Luxury SUV Land Rover Evoque 5-Door 928
Luxury SUV BMW X6 936
Standard Pickup Honda Ridgeline 863
Full-Size Pickup Ford F-150 902
Heavy-Duty Pickup Ford F-250/350 874