WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. (WWJ) – While Lexus again finished tops overall in J.D. Powers annual dependability study, General Motors products and brands showed significant gains.

“Buick’s really done well,” said Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. automotive at J.D. Power. “They’ve moved up to second, followed by Honda and Cadillac. Toyota’s continued to perform very well.”

Power’s Vehicle Dependability Study–now in its 26th year–surveyed 35,000 owners of three-year old vehicles, looking at “problems per 100 vehicles.”

[LINK: 2015 JD Power Dependability Study]

“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.

General Motors tied Toyota for most vehicles ranked top in their individual categories, seven.

“This has been a great week for General Motors – and it’s only Wednesday,” says AutoTrader.com senior analyst Michelle Krebs.

GM’s strong showing in the JD Power study comes one day after it’s vehicles scored well in Consumer Reports study of top vehicles.

“These are major milestones for GM, which was in bankruptcy five years ago and embroiled in an ugly ignition-switch recall situation a year ago,” says Krebs. “The accolades lend support to the assertions by GM executives that this is a new GM producing quality vehicles with new processes and a new spirit.”

All four of GM’s brands finished in the top ten.

“GM’s customer-driven approach to quality and dependability is breaking through,” said Grace Lieblein, vice president, Global Quality. “Dependability is a top purchase consideration and key to customer loyalty. These awards reflect our commitment to provide customers with the best overall experience in the industry.”

As we’ve been seeing in studies of new vehicles, the top owner complaints surrounded technology that either didn’t work as expected, or was hard to use.

Y’know, it’s one of those problems, it’s not ‘here today gone tomorrow, it’s here today, here tomorrow,” said Stevens. “Now, after three years, consumers are still commenting that this is an issue.”

Problems with My Ford Touch likely lead to the Ford brands poor showing. By contrast, the Lincoln brand did quite well in the study, finishing in 7th place, just ahead of Mercedes Benz.

Car companies have been working to make their technology more reliable and more user friendly, with mixed results.

“Despite in-car technology improvements from nearly every brand, this area continues to be the biggest source of consumer complaints,” says Kelley Blue Book analyst Karl Brauer. “Given this study’s timing, and how much these interfaces have evolved over the past 3 years, it’s likely we’ll see fewer technology complaints in future feedback.”

While there are fewer issues with the ability of a vehicle to get you from one place to another safely, Stevens says the issues with technology are significant, because Stevens says technology now plays a key role in consumers decisions about what vehicles to buy.

JD Power highlighted a number of key study findings:

  • Among owners who experienced a Bluetooth pairing/connectivity problem, 55 percent say that their vehicle would not recognize their phone, and 31 percent say the phone would not automatically connect when entering their vehicle.
  • The number of engine/transmission problems remains high. Nearly 30 percent of the reported powertrain problems are a result of automatic transmission hesitation and rough shifting.
  • Six of the top 10 problems are design-related as opposed to defects or malfunctions.
  • By vehicle category, the most frequently reported problems are related to exterior, followed by engine/transmission and audio/communication/entertainment/navigation.
  • Overall vehicle dependability industry-wide averages 147 PP100, or approximately 1.5 problems per vehicle.

All of Fiat-Chrysler’s brands–with the exception of Ram Trucks–finished below average in the JD Power study, with the Fiat brand finishing last.  Stevens says there are a lot of minor quality issues, like clocks not operating.

“Nothing that’s preventing the vehicles from operating, just some areas that are aggravating customers.”

While cars and trucks have improved greatly in the 26 years that this study has done, Stevens says they’ve added a lot of extras, and those extras haven’t always worked perfectly.  That comes at a time of rising prices, and rising consumer expectations.

“We want it, and we want it all.”

Connect with Jeff Gilbert
Email: jdgilbert@cbs.com
Facebook: facebook.com/carchronicles
Twitter: @jefferygilbert


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