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Phone issues, voice recognition plague vehicles in JD Power study

Lexus remains top ranked brand in annual JD Power ratings

Getting a phone connected to a car and getting the car to understand voice commands are the two most frequently reported problems in late model vehicles, according to new J.D. Power study of difficulties people encounter with their vehicles.

Complaints about Bluetooth connectivity and built-in voice recognition systems dominated the automotive research firm’s 2015 Vehicle Dependability Study released Wednesday. The study measured the problems experienced in the last year by owners of 2012 model year vehicles.

The same complaints mirror the most frequent problems reported in a different J.D. Power study last year by drivers of new cars during their first 90 days of ownership.

“Owners view in-vehicle technology issues as significant problems, and they typically don’t go away after the ownership honeymoon period is over,” said Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. automotive at J.D. Power. “Owners clearly want the latest technology in their vehicles, and they don’t hesitate to express their disapproval when it doesn’t work.”

The report was part of J.D. Power’s annual ranking of the dependability of automotive brands.

Lexus, the luxury division of Toyota, ranked first, as it has for four consecutive years now. Lexus also was the top brand in a similar ranking released by Consumer Reports on Tuesday.

General Motors' Buick came in second, with Toyota running third. Cadillac, GM’s luxury division placed fourth, with Honda, Porsche, Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz, Scion and Chevrolet rounding out the top 10.

The J.D. Power study measures the number of problems per hundred vehicles reported by owners. The average was 147. Lexus scored just 89, far ahead of Buick’s 110. At the other end of the spectrum was Fiat with 273 and Land Rover with 258.

Other brands scoring below average included Subaru, Kia, Volkswagen, Chrysler, Volvo, Ford, Hyundai, Dodge, Mini and Jeep.

J.D. Power found that six of the top 10 problems the vehicles owners encountered were design-related as opposed to defects or malfunctions, Stephens said. For example, a switch might be awkward place and can only be relocated when the vehicle is redesigned, she said.

Many problems were a result of poorly functioning features. Among the owners who experienced a Bluetooth pairing/connectivity problem, 55% said their vehicle would not recognize their phone, and 31% said their phone would not automatically connect when entering their vehicle.

“This is not going away,” Stephens said. “Consumers will avoid models that lack the technology they are looking for.”

A glaring example in some cars is the lack of a USB port that could be used to charge smartphones and other devices.

Powertrain problems also made the list of complaints. Nearly 30 percent of the reported powertrain problems concerned automatic transmission hesitation and rough shifting, Stephens said.

Multiple problems with a vehicle that is only three years old often drive owners to buy from a different manufacturer when they return to the market.

“At the three-year point, many owners are thinking about replacing their vehicles, and we find that how they feel about their current vehicle’s quality and dependability impacts their intent to consider purchasing the same brand again,” said Stephens.

The J.D.Power study is based on responses from more than 34,000 original owners of 2012 model-year vehicles after three years of ownership. The study was fielded in November and December 2014.

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