One of the best things about the automotive industry's evolution is that as car companies move through time, they tend to get better at building cars. This seems obvious, right? But it's something many of us take for granted. Not JD Power, though, because for the last 32 years, it's polled owners of three-year-old cars to see just how many problems they've experienced, and from that, it's created the annual Vehicle Dependability Study.
The study results for 2021 -- which were released on Thursday -- tell a tale of a changing automotive industry, where brands that might have once been derided as cheap or unreliable making it into the top five.
JD Power measures each brand's dependability in "Problems per 100 vehicles," or PP100, and using this unit; we see that the industry average has dropped by 10% from 2020 with a score of 121 PP100. This is a much more significant improvement than seen in other recent years. According to the study, we only saw a reduction of 2% and 6% in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
If you've paid attention to these studies every year, then the two top names on the list should come as no surprise. Lexus and Porsche have consistently offered exceedingly well-built vehicles that function despite increasing levels of technical complexity. Lexus has been in the top spot for 9 of the last 10 years, which is seriously impressive and goes to show why many of the brand's customers are so damned loyal. This year it came in with a score of just 81 PP100.
Porsche is ranked second, with 86 PP100, but theis ranked as the most dependable car of all, overall. This is the second time in the last three years that it's snagged the top spot. That shouldn't be surprising given Porsche's reputation and the 911's status as the brand's most iconic model.
Kia is the third-ranked brand with 95 PP100, and it grabs that spot by reducing its PP100 score by 35 compared to its 2020 showing. It also makes Kia the best-scoring mass-market brand (read: non-luxury) by a long shot. It's followed by Toyota and Buick, rounding out the top five.
Some other insights worth mentioning are that trucks and SUVs are, by and large, scoring lower than cars. Trucks average 130 PP100, and SUVs are sitting at around 122. When you consider how many more trucks and SUVs are sold in today's market, that shows there is a lot of room for improvement.
Tesla is a part of this list for the first time but doesn't get full credit because Tesla won't share owner contact information with JD Power in 15 of the 50 states. This means that the data isn't weighted as accurately, but even so, things aren't great for the Big T. It averages 176 PP100, which puts it right in between Chrysler and Jaguar toward the lower end of the list. It's still miles ahead of Land Rover, which scrapes the bottom of the barrel with 244 PP100, aka just over double the industry average.
What does this mean for buyers? Well, it means that the odds are good that your new car will treat you better over the next three years than ever before. It also means that you should keep an eye on Japanese and Korean brands when shopping for the most reliable experience.