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New-car complaints fall – and gripes are mostly about high-tech toys

A worker assembles a Lexus RX330 at the Toyota plant in Cambridge, Ont.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Auto makers are building the highest-quality vehicles they have ever built, but high-tech entertainment and navigation systems are making drivers unhappy.

The number of complaints from owners of new vehicles fell to a record low of 102 for every 100 vehicles in the 2012 model year – with a Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc. plant winning the gold prize for North American factories – but multimedia entertainment systems led the complaints for the first time.

The number of complaints about factory-installed, hands-free communication devices has more than doubled during the past four years, according to the annual survey of initial vehicle quality released Wednesday by consulting firm J.D. Power and Associates.

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It's not an age thing, said Dave Sargent, vice-president of global automotive research for the firm.

"Younger customers report more problems with technology," Mr. Sargent noted. "This is really where the battleground of the future is. As smartphones become ubiquitous in the lives of consumers and are ever-more sophisticated, expectations about the complementary technologies being offered in new models will only get higher."

Complaints about Ford Motor Co.'s My Touch communications system, for example, caused that company's ratings to drop.

The Lexus luxury division of Toyota Motor Corp. topped the list, with only 73 problems reported for every 100 vehicles. That included the RX350 Lexus models that are assembled in Cambridge, Ont., which was rated as the highest-quality assembly plant in North America. The survey found only 24 complaints for every 100 vehicles.

Another Canadian Toyota plant, in Woodstock, Ont., was third among North American factories with 27 problems for every 100 RAV4 crossovers sold.

A Honda Motor Co. Ltd., factory in Marysville, Ohio, finished in second spot in North America, while that auto maker's Suzuka, Japan, plant won the platinum award for global quality.

General Motors Co. said its quality ranking was the highest it has achieved in the 26-year history of the study.

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Chrysler Group LLC slipped in quality ratings .

Buyers ranked reliability and durability as the most important factors they look at when shopping. Those qualities were rated as key by 59 per cent of drivers. Interior comfort ranked second.

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About the Author
Auto and Steel Industry Reporter

Greg Keenan has covered the automotive and steel industries for The Globe and Mail since 1995. He also writes about broader manufacturing trends. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto and of the University of Western Ontario School of Journalism. More


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