Earlier this month, J.D. Power and Associates released their latest New Vehicle Initial Quality Study (IQS) results, which includes surveys from new-car owners on the quality of their vehicles during the first 90 days of ownership. The IQS includes both carry-over and newly launched models, highlighting the top three performers in each vehicle segment.
The big news for this year’s study … initial quality for new or redesigned models in 2011 declined! Oh my gosh … how could this happen? Is it time to panic?
To those outside the automotive industry, this might be perceived as “breaking” news … the reality is that it comes as no surprise. Inspection of the data reveals that declining quality scores are tied to the ever-expanding adoption of technology accessories, such as Bluetooth, Internet and higher tech audio, entertainment and navigation capabilities.
If you experience a problem with a computer application you can either re-boot the program or look for a patch to fix it. In an automobile, this “re-boot” process is a bit more difficult, especially when you are travelling down the road at 60 miles per hour!
Today, automotive buyers want their vehicles to be equipped with all of the latest technologies … and they want them all to work perfectly the first time, avoiding the hassle of going to their dealer for a software upgrade. Automakers have accelerated the introduction of advanced technology across all facets of today’s vehicles, from the chassis to braking to safety measures. And, with the growth of in-car infotainment systems, new challenges are lying in wait. Alignment with customer lifestyle (especially Generation Y, the ‘Millennials’) and on-going competitive pressure to offer the latest technologies is driving communication options that now include email and social media connectivity.
Obviously, this presents a huge challenge for automakers in the area of safety as it escalates distracted driving liability and risk concerns exponentially. The need for advanced manufacturing solutions that simultaneously support accelerated innovation, perfect quality delivery and responsive application of engineering changes across a distributed manufacturing network has never been greater.
The J.D. Power report notes that while overall vehicle quality continues to improve, the introduction of new technology is expected to continue to pose significant challenges for automakers. Case in point: overall problem rates for audio/entertainment/navigation systems in 2011 are 18 percent higher than in 2010 and 28 percent higher than in 2009.
Now, more than ever, it is critical to have a highly flexible manufacturing operations platform supporting the management and execution of quality initiatives, as well as continuous process improvement programs. Every time a new “bug” is discovered and understood, a process change will undoubtedly be required, kicking off a series of manufacturing operations process updates that must be designed and then disseminated to the entire team, including suppliers and third party contractors.
If you work in the automotive manufacturing industry and don’t have flexible operations processes, then my heart goes out to you. And, I am afraid it is only going to get worse as the complexity doesn’t appear to be going away! This trend underscores why automotive OEM’s and suppliers must continue to invest in advanced manufacturing systems in order to meet ever increasing customer expectations.