Friday, January 27, 2012

Voice of the Customer Update – Mobile

by Robert Desel

We just wrapped up three important pieces of consumer research to support the upcoming Digital Summit (Feb 28 & 29), NASB (March 13 & 14) and NAPB (April 23-25). Today we are going to look at some early results from our mobile survey and some macro level context for this topic. We will be going into much greater detail at the Digital Summit.

Mobile continues to grow, develop, and change at an unprecedented pace. Beginning around the middle of last year, the average time spent on mobile apps started to exceed the average time spent browsing (on both mobile and desktop). By December 2011 app consumption was 30% higher than web. If we view this from the standpoint of where we as manufacturers have been investing in our customer-facing technology, this is a very important trend. Mobile is here; it’s now arguably more important than conventional web browsing and if we want to reach the customers where they are, it is going to consume an increasing amount of manufacturer resources.

Against this backdrop is an ever-crowded ‘market’. Apple’s app store has over half-a-million apps available for download, with an average of 739 new apps submitted every day or about 17,000 last month. Meanwhile, about 10 miles up the road, Google’s Android marketplace has close to 360,000 apps with another 15,000 being added every month. To call this a crowded market place is an understatement.

Breaking through this clutter is tough, but ratings in this ‘marketplace’ are more powerful than anywhere. The chart to the right shows the distribution of download buckets by category, and we can see that there is a higher proportion of >50k downloaded apps within the 3.5-4.5 rating categories.

However, that’s not the end of the gauntlet! Once we have cut through the clutter and actually gotten a vehicle owner to download the app that we have invested precious corporate resources to develop, they actually need to keep it on their phone long enough to make a difference to our business and their ownership experience. Here is where the statistics get even scarier.

Three months after acquisition only 24% of the users that downloaded your app will still have it on their phone and by 12 months after acquisition that number drops to 4%.

Let’s do some math. The “My Chevy” app on Android Marketplace (Apple doesn’t disclose download stats) has 50,000 to 100,000 downloads. Let’s be generous and call it 100,000. If we assume they were all downloaded in the last month, by the end of 2012 only about 4,000 of these Chevy owners will still have this app on their phones. I am not picking on GM; their app is well designed and is probably one of the better ones out there. This point just illustrates how difficult it is to make an impact in this space. Furthermore, app retention rates decrease with frequency of use (the less you use it the more likely you are to hit the uninstall button). If we consider the fact that our core functionality would ‘require’ a user to use a service and maintenance app at most 3-4 times per year, this makes our challenge even harder.

Let me recap what we have covered so far:
  1. The mobile ‘space’ is important and accounts for more of the consumers’ on-line time.
  2. The marketplace for our OEM apps is crowded and getting more so.
  3. Even when we cut through the clutter and get our app on the owner’s phone, keeping it there is even harder.
All of this means that the apps we build have to nail our customers’ requirements and this may mean we need think a little bit outside of the box, and come at this issue not from the perspective of what we want, but what we need to give the customer to get them to 1) download our app and 2) keep it on their phone.

With this in mind we surveyed about 2,000 vehicle owners to understand their behavior and, most importantly, what they want in an automotive service app. Here are three big takeaways to get us started before the Digital Summit in February.
1. It’s still a wide open market for us.

73% of the consumers had not downloaded any automotive service apps onto their devices. Of the consumers that had downloaded something, 3rd party apps were dominant.

2. For those owners who do have our ‘OEM’ apps, they don’t use them a lot.

This is somewhat expected, based on the typical features and functionality that we offer. However, the low frequency of use may result in longer term low retention, while some of the 3rd party apps with higher usage and higher retention will have an opportunity to capitalize on their position with additional features and functions that may not necessarily be ‘dealer friendly’.

3. Each type of app is getting pretty good ratings, but gas apps are king.

The consumers rated OEM apps at 7.03 (on a scale of 1-10). This isn’t too bad. However, gas apps got the highest ratings. Maybe we should consider adding or making more prominent ‘Gas Finder’ features in our OEM apps.

Taken together, I believe that this all represents opportunity for companies to connect with their customers. Mobile is an important and rapidly developing window to our customers, it is with them 24/7, and there has not yet emerged the ‘killer app’ for vehicle care and maintenance. Manufacturers have the resources to build that killer app, but, as with many other aspects of the digital space, the question is whether each manufacturer will go it alone and implicitly ask customers to install and keep multiple apps on their device or if a third party will build an ‘all-makes’ killer app.

We are continuing to dig deeply into this customer research, as we get ready for the Digital Summit, and will be including a thorough look at what attributes are most important to consumers and whether there are segments of the market that are looking for different things that we can use to target our efforts. See you all in a few weeks.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

"The Cinderella Consulate” OR “Going Global in East Asia" - by Stephan Brackertz and Mike Chen

Click Here for Chinese language version - 中文版本

Last year I applied for a visa at the Chinese consulate in Frankfurt. The consulate was located in a dirty and run-down area of the city. I remember double checking with Google Streetview to confirm whether I was at the real location or if there was a mistake with the map. It was for real… a consulate wedged in between a cheap computer store, a bad pizzeria and a used car lot.

Just this morning, I applied for another visa to China – and to my surprise, the consulate is now located in the best area of Frankfurt; in a brand new, shiny building. This struck me as a nice little Cinderella moment…how quickly things can change! It almost seems as if the “upgrade” of the consulate is linked to macro-level changes on the world stage. To me, this was just another indication that as China shifts the global economic balance, we all need to be prepared to rethink globalization.

In case you think “globalization” is just another buzzword or that China and the rest of Asia are far away lands that are important only to ex-pats and consultants, let’s look at two rather astounding examples of how the world is changing as a result of the influence of Asia:

  • Chinese car sales have exploded to reach 18.5 million1 new vehicles. China is now the world’s largest market for vehicles. With this, the number of units in operation has rapidly expanded – in 2011, China overtook Japan in terms of carparc. Soon, China will also surpass Japan as a market for aftersales parts and service.
  • On the commercial vehicle side, China overtook the U.S. as the largest global consumer in 2009. In 2010, China had a market share of 30% of the global market. This growth has been mirrored in the rest of Asia and the region now accounts for nearly one in every two commercial vehicles sold worldwide. Bottom line – If you’re not firmly managing your aftersales business in China, you may miss out on a huge opportunity.
  • Another example…Take a look around your office and the desk you are sitting at: almost everything you touch was manufactured in Asia – from your Samsung screen over your Lenovo laptop to your Konica Minolta printer. Oh, and don’t forget the components of your Apple iPhone... Global imports and exports have changed our everyday lives forever.
As a consequence of such changes, we, as service parts executives, need to give East Asia the attention it deserves.

Last October, Carlisle held the first East Asia Parts Benchmark in Beijing. You are probably already familiar with our supply chain benchmarks for service parts OEMs in North America, South America, and Europe. The East Asia benchmark follows the same model; Carlisle facilitates the event on behalf of the group of motor vehicle OEMs. Service parts executives gather together to discuss benchmark metrics and share best practices. There are presentations, roundtable discussions, panels and social time. The scope of the benchmark covers the whole of the supply chain in East Asia, but with – understandably – focus on logistics in China. In truth, we at Carlisle held this event focused on East Asia because our clients (you) asked us to do so!

The East Asia Parts Benchmark was a great success – so much so that at the event debrief meeting all the attending companies already agreed to repeat the event in October 2012. We at Carlisle are ready to start recruiting for this event, so don’t be surprised if we reach out to you about joining. What’s more, we are pleased to report that three Chinese automotive manufacturers have already agreed to participate in the 2012 event!

Continuing on our theme of globalization, allow me to share some nuggets pulled from the 2011 EAPB benchmark. These are some things that we found when comparing East Asia warehouse data to North America and Europe:
  • Fill rates in East Asia are lower.
  • Back orders take a lot longer to clear.
  • Inventory levels are much lower.
  • East Asian warehouses are significantly less productive.
  • Labor costs, on average, are lower.
  • South Korea is home to the most productive warehouse in the benchmark.
  • Japan is the country with the most consistent and highest productivity.
Beyond these data insights, we also took away some highlights from the discussions at the event:
  • This region is important and will continue to grow.
  • There is a ton that companies can learn from each other!
  • Most non-Asian brands still have country-by-country “import solution” networks, not integrated pan-Asian networks.
  • Although service requirements in Asia are high enough to be comparable to North America or Europe, fill rates are low.
  • Many supply chain initiatives are currently focused on China.
  • Sophisticated concepts, such as “lean”, RIM, LDCs, and same-day delivery are being applied in Asia.
  • On balance, organizations still need to evolve from simply “supplying parts” to providing “service excellence”.
By the way, next week is the Spring Festival in China. This celebration of the lunar New Year is the biggest holiday of the year, in which millions of Chinese travel to visit their families. If we only count railroad passengers, the traveler total reaches 235 million! (You read that right.) Not long ago, I was completely unaware of this dynamic. However, in this increasingly globalized business world, we need to get used to putting events like the Spring Festival on our calendars. In the hopes of embracing opportunities for our business, perhaps we should put the East Asia Parts Benchmark on our calendars as well?

1Some sources say 16.6 million vehicles, but that’s splitting hairs. It’s still the biggest car market in the world.

Friday, January 20, 2012

“灰姑娘领馆”, 或“者走向世界”

By Stephan Brackertz and Mike Chen

去年我在法兰克福中国领事馆拿到了去中国的签证. 当时领事馆位于城市里一个肮赃和破落的地区. 我记得当时我在谷歌的街景上再次检查, 以确认我的位置, 而不是地图有误. 不过是真的, 领事馆是夹在一家廉价电脑商店, 一个糟糕的比萨餅店和一家二手车行中间.
今天早上我再次去申请到中国的签证. 令我吃惊的是, 现在领事馆处于法兰克福一个最好的区域,在一个全新的, 发光的建筑中. 就象可爱的小灰姑娘带给我的印象一样, 事物的变化是多么的快呀.领事馆的升级就好象代表着中国在世界舞台上宏观层面的变化. 对我来说, 这只是另一个迹象表明, 随着中国对全球经济平衡的影响, 我们都需要做好准备, 重新认识全球化.

如果你认为”全球化”只是另一个流行语或者认为中国和亚洲其它地区只是对出口商和咨询行业重要的话, 让我们从两个惊人的例子, 看看亚洲是如何影响世界的变化.
  1. 中国新车的销售量已经突破了1千8百50万辆1. 中国现在是世界上最大的汽车市场. 它的经营单位的数量在迅速增长 – 在carparc方面它已经超过日本. 不久, 中国在售后零部件和服务的市场方面也将超越日本.
  2. 2009年在商用汽车方面, 中国超越了美国成为全球最大的消费者. 在2010年, 中国的市场份额占全球市场的30%. 这种增长也出现在亚洲其它地区. 现在几乎每两辆商业汽车, 就有一辆是在亚洲售出的. 底线是, 如果你没有很好的管理在中国的售后服务业务, 你将有可能错过了一个巨大的商机.
  3. 另一个例子…. 环顾一下你的办公室, 从办公桌到几乎能触摸的每一样东西都是在亚洲制照的 – 从联想笔记本电脑的三星的屏幕, 到柯尼卡美打印机. 哦, 别忘了你的苹果手机…全球的进出口已经改变了我们的日常生活.
对于东亚的这种变化, 做为服务零部件的高管需要给予高度的重视.
去年10月, 卡莱尔在北京举行了首届东亚零部件基准会议. 也许你已经很熟悉在北美, 南美和欧洲的原始设备制造商的卡莱尔基准. 东亚的基准遵循了同样的模式. 卡莱尔代表汽车原始制造商集团召集和主持了会议. 售后服务的高管们齐聚一堂, 讨论基准指标和分享最佳实践. 会议包括了演讲, 圆桌讨论, 问题解答和社交时间. 基准的范围涵盖整个东亚供应链, 当然重点是中国的物流链. 事实上, 卡莱尔是应客户(你)的要求而举行东亚基准活动的. 东亚基准活动是非常成功的, 以至于在最后的汇报会上, 所有的参与公司都要求参加2012年的东亚活动. 很快我们就要开始2012年活动的招聘和准备, 当您被邀请加入时, 请不要惊讶. 还有, 我们很高兴地告诉大家, 已经有三家中国汽车制造商同意参加2010年的东亚基准活动! 继续我们对全球化的讨论, 请允许我分享一些东亚基准活动中的数据. 当我们将东亚的仓库数据与北美和欧洲的相比较时, 发现了一些有趣的事.
  • 东亚地区的充填率较低
  • 延期交货所需要时间更长
  • 库存量要低的多
  • 东亚地区的仓库的生产力较低
  • 平均的劳动力成本较低
  • 韩国的仓库的生产力是最高的
  • 日本的生产力是最高的和最稳定的
除了从数据中得到上述见解, 我们还在会议的讨论中得知:
  • 该地区是重要的, 将继续增长.
  • 企业可以相互学习的东西太多了!
  • 大多数非亚洲产品仍然是通过国家对国家的进口方案, 而不是泛亚洲网络
  • 尽管亚洲的服务要求很高, 但充填率较低
  • 许多供应链目前都专注与中国
  • 亚洲在应用先进的概念, 如”精益”, RIM, LDC, 和同天的运货
  • 平衡, 组织还需要不断的改进, 要从简单的”供应”到提供”卓越的服务”.
另外, 下周是中国的春节. 这个农历新年是中国最大的节日. 有数以百万的人口将在此其间探亲访友. 仅是铁路, 旅客人数将有235百万!(这是真的) 不久前, 我完全不知道这个国家的活力. 在这日益全球化的世界中, 我们需要将春节放到日历上. 为了抓住这个商机, 我们同样应把东亚基准活动放到我们的日历上.
1有消息说是1千6百60万辆, 那只是鸡蛋里挑骨头. 中国仍然是世界上最大的汽车市场.

Monday, January 16, 2012

What Good Is the J.D. Power IQS for Picking Out a Good Car?

I got some interesting feedback last week on the blog. A consistent theme of this feedback was Consumer Reports was not without sin. I thought I’d have a go at this one more time, but with a vivid example. Conveniently, Monday morning, Automotive News announced that the Hyundai Elantra won car of the year at the Detroit Auto show. That seemed top-of-mind enough for me.

Bottom line: Is the Hyundai Elantra any good? Like a typical digital customer, I dredged up a goulash of inputs. I thought I’d see how four different “perspectives” compared; (1) the panel of automotive journalists at the Detroit Auto Show, (2) J.D. Power IQS, (3) Consumer Reports, and (4) TrueDelta.

OK, I know that the “car of the year award” is very different from Power/Consumer Reports/TrueDelta evaluations, but you’d think that the car of the year would shine across a broad array of inputs. Consumers buy stuff based on a very complex set of inputs – quality, reliability, styling, cost, what other customers say, and the list goes on and on. I approached this from the left side of my brain, not the right.

The good thing about the North American Car of the Year is that it represents the professional opinions of 50 journalists – a big number – who spent significant time driving all of the nominated vehicles throughout the year (probably a week with each) and then had a final chance to drive the finalists a couple of months before the final vote. The Hyundai Elantra in 2011 was the second best selling vehicle in the world, and only 10,000 units behind the Toyota Corolla at roughly 1,010,000 units.

It deserves to be car of the year, despite what J.D. Power IQS says.

The J.D. Power IQS was published in June and the study focused on three components: (1) design problems, (2) defect / malfunction problems, and (3) unspecified other problems. J.D. Power defines these as: “Initial Quality: Taken from the Initial Quality Study (IQS), which looks at owner-reported problems in the first 90 days of new-vehicle ownership. This score is based on problems that have caused a complete breakdown, malfunction, or where controls or features may work as designed, but are difficult to use or understand.” So, IQS is about quality and personal gripes.

It is hard to split hairs on some of these categories. The 2011 Elantra was all new and did not do particularly well in the IQS. In fact, I heard that it fell quite a bit from 2010. Why? Did Hyundai take a nosedive in quality? No, the survey problems were of the apples, pears, and oranges variety. Comparing the 2011 Elantra to the 2010 is comparing a car at the end of its production cycle (2010), where it had been somewhat commoditized, to a brand new car (2011) that is in short supply and typically sold loaded with high trim levels and lots of options. Every OEM has had experience with this for about 100 years or so. That’s like comparing apples to pears. Now, comparing the 2011 “loaded” Elantra (about 85% sold with Bluetooth) with the 2011 Honda Civic (no Bluetooth) is like comparing pears to oranges. If a customer does not understand how to use Bluetooth, or is not terribly accepting of its peculiarities, well, there’s a lot to have “gone wrong”.

The IQS score for the 2011 Elantra looks pretty much like a fruit salad. Compounding the confusion was that the Elantra also had high conquest sales and brought new people to the brand. There can be a huge negative bias for “design problems” from customers who are new to the brand. This is easy to imagine. For example, what happens when someone goes from a brand with different seat controls than the Elantra? They don’t like the Hyundai seats. Other brand owners who switch don’t like Hyundai windshield wipers because the switch is on a peculiar side of the stalk.. If you are not used to this, it can show up as “difficult to use” … a design defect. It might take 6 months to adjust to the different location and understand the value of not having to take your hands off the steering wheel to turn on the wipers.

IQS is not without some value; it does identify some legitimate problems; although most OEMs already pick up most of these with internal surveys. It is a good tool to use with assembly plants to give them a target to shoot for in improving their assembly quality. There really is no other independent benchmark for assembly quality.

I went online and looked up the Elantra in Consumer Reports (CR) and they show steadily improving reliability and named it as CR’s “top-rated small car”. Even though CR’s reliability history gives the Elantra top marks for all eight reported “trouble spots by year”, the CR ratings report card spots it as only average for predicted reliability (looking further into the details, the reliability score was dragged down by average scores for body hardware, power equipment, and audio system).

Elantra’s overall score is a composite of 50 different, and unidentified, “tests”. Basically, they bury you with detailed color splotches that have real numbers behind them, and average it all up into a malted milkshake overall score. Consumer Reports has a relatively small staff of engineers who evaluate the vehicles. They have their own biases, such as what Ford experienced with My Ford Touch (Ford dropped from #8 in IQS to # 23 because of this and their new Dual Clutch Transmission). CR seems to like big buttons/knobs and doesn’t like touch screens. They tend to like a sporty feel and not a soft ride.

So where are we so far?

  1. Elantra won car of the year at the Detroit Auto Show.
  2. J.D. Power IQS ranked Elantra as less than average within the compact car segment (from eyeballing the circles). Reliability measured from another J.D. Power survey has the Elantra as above average.
  3. Consumer Reports pegs the Elantra as its “top-rated small car” and shows that it has top score blotches for all 8 reported CR trouble spots. However, CR predicts the Elantra’s reliability as average. This is a different characterization than J.D. Power’s.
TrueDelta is a great source for information that deserves serious consideration. It represents data from a vehicle panel that is 75,826 members strong, with quarterly survey response rates of about 23,000. Not bad. TrueDelta shows the Elantra ( as being very reliable. TrueDelta posts representative member comments about their cars. Digital customers really value this.

One key thing to realize is that everyone asks different questions, and that different questions can legitimately yield different answers. With ANY survey, it's very important to know the actual wording of the questions.
  • J.D. Power: "Things gone wrong – Please mark below ALL problems you have experienced with your new vehicle.” They then ask you about things that are broken/not working, controls that are difficult to understand or use, and controls in a poor location. I can understand if it’s broke I can conclude that it has poor quality. But, if I don’t like where it’s located (e.g, the wipers) how can I conclude that this, too, is poor quality?
  • CR: "Did the car have any problems that you considered serious” This sort of wording opens the door wide for any owner biases; they can honestly under-report problems if they like the brand/car, as the problem did not seem serious enough to report.
  • TrueDelta: "Did the car have any successfully completed repairs?" TrueDelta currently focuses on this because they can be sure there was a problem, as the repair shop agreed there was a problem and was able to do something to make it go away. They also request that all repairs be reported, even minor ones. This minimizes the role of subjectivity, so their data isn’t impacted by differing perceptions and attitudes as much as the other two, especially Consumer Reports. As with the other surveys, routine maintenance and preventive repairs (including those related to recalls) aren't included in TrueDelta’s analysis. They also exclude computer re-flashes, as long as these are free to the car owner.
TrueDelta appeals to the purist in me. Their results, on average, are over nine months ahead of the others, and often over a year ahead. This is a key benefit. Do you want to know how reliable a car was a year ago, when it was a year newer, or how reliable it has been recently? For the Elantra, both J.D. Power and CR are measuring how well the Elantra did in its first few months. TrueDelta reports how it did during its first year, through the end of September and soon through the end of 2011. TrueDelta is the only public information source that provides the actual repair frequencies, and not just dots. The dots used by the others can make differences between models seem much larger than they actually are.

Bottom Line: I can’t find much good in the J.D. Power IQS, because I can’t separate “quality” (which I internalize as reliability and durability) from personal preferences. If I were to care about other people’s personal preferences, I’d go to on-line customer reviews or depend on the auto rags. Using my Volt as an example, just about everything inside the car is different, and I can imagine how this could really disturb some customers. My guess is those folks are the typical ones who would invest 23.4 minutes of their time to take the survey. Not me. I want to be surprised and I don’t gauge my surprise by some average surveyed “surprise” expectation. Now, I would like to know more about the Volt’s “quality”, but I can’t get it from the NY Times advertisements on who wins the J.D. Power IQS competitions. I agree that the Elantra deserved to be car of the year. It is a very good car. Couldn’t get that out of Power IQS. J.D. Power IQS is like Netflix – huge product momentum that is, ultimately, incredibly fragile. I can poke a lot at Consumer Reports, but, it, too, confirmed that the Elantra is a very good car. Power seems to me to be “no brain”, whereas Consumer Reports is both left and right brain. TrueDelta is all left brain. It is about the facts. TrueDelta is what our emerging digital customers really want. They want a kettle full of left-brain facts so that they can make their own right-brain decisions.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Why the J.D. Power IQS Has a Low IQ

by David P. Carlisle

First off, let me state for the record that the Power IQS gives me a great deal of comfort. I grew up on a farm where my family was large and money was very tight. So, it was quite natural for me to walk away from that with a significant dose of financial insecurity and concern. Fear of failure. The mere fact that the Power IQS is so successful and the OEMs pay a fortune for it shows that no matter how bad it gets, America is indeed the land of milk and honey. There is a vast market here for incompetence. What me worry? … Don’t you feel better already?

At the end of 2011 I bought a Chevy Volt – hey, I’m from Massachusetts. (By the way, the car is breathtaking – my favorite ride out of our stable of too many cars.) Right before Christmas I received the J.D. Power New Vehicle Quality Survey in the mail. Normally, I trash their surveys because I simply do not have the time to waste filling them out – and I generally love taking surveys. This time I looked at it carefully before sending it to our blue recycling tubs.

It was four pages long and asked me to make 281 (give or take) decisions on my new Volt. I didn’t even get the dollar bill they usually stuff in the envelope. I thought about this and had a bunch of questions.

Can “for profit” J.D. Power claim cult status, like non-profit Consumer Reports, so that they have “invested” survey respondents? No. Consumer Reports is a non-profit consumer “cult” group that is deeply invested in the information and the process. One million of them take the survey each year:
“Every year, the Consumer Reports National Research Center sends the Annual Questionnaire to all qualified, paid Consumer Reports and subscribers. It is one of the largest and most complex consumer surveys in the world. In fact, other then the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, the number of AQ respondents may be larger then the sample of any other survey conducted in the U.S. We received responses from more than one million subscribers, who provided information about many products and services, including about 1.3 million vehicles.”
The Power IQS “cult” is more about the OEMs who buy the surveys, and their purchased rights to proclaim victory, than it is about who actually takes the surveys. Car and Driver, a magazine that resonates with automotive “cultists”, seems to be falling out of love with IQS. Maybe a few of their staffers tried to complete the survey and figured out that it was pretty awful.
“Car and Driver paints the complaints that have dogged Ford among the latter, suggesting that these are less valid quality metrics than something like a poorly assembled door panel. The venerable buff book doesn't stop at defending Ford, however, cautioning against what it sees as a trend "toward the lowest-common-denominator solutions to reduce design 'problems.'" Citing examples like BMW moving its cruise control from a separate stalk to buttons on the steering wheel to appease whining customers and Porsche getting dinged on IQS for using brake pads that generate too much dust, C/D doesn't say it outright, but certainly implies that J.D. Power is no longer pushing automakers in the right direction.” “(
I understand Consumer Reports’ subscribers filling out their surveys as if it were a civic duty, but why would these folks invest another 23.4 minutes into this IQS survey? I don’t think so. My guess is that these two groups are mutually exclusive. And, I think I know what kind of person takes the time to fill out a CR survey. IQS? I’m stumped.

Golly, well, then, just who fills out these surveys? OK, I’ve got to make 281 decisions. Decisions like figuring out if there was an engine idle problem at the first start of the day? What about at other times? (two decisions to make here). Or, did I get a security/alarm system? Was it factory or dealer installed? Was it aftermarket installed? Hmm. Got me. Is OnStar both a Telematics system and security/alarm system? I honestly don’t know. Did I get a “Homelink” system? What’s Homelink? At five seconds of thought for each “decision”, it would take more than 23 minutes to complete the survey. Got me thinking - what is the profile of someone who invests 23 minutes on a paper survey, stuffs the envelope, and takes the time to mail it? They do have an “about you” section on the IQS survey. For example, you could check the boxes for being a 45 year old five-and-a half-foot female weighing 135 pounds with two less-than-20 year old kids at home, making $150,000 a year. My big question is, does this someone really represent her economic/demographic group? Someone who would take 23.4 minutes (excluding the time to mail the damn thing) out of their busy day to fill out the IQS survey. Just think about it. It is ridiculous.

Do the respondents really understand what they are being asked? This is a relevant question that the OEMs should be asking. OK, so I just bought a new Volt and everybody in our family loves it – husband, wife, and two daughters. Four people in the family drive it, and we got the survey before the first 1,000 miles were put on it. The letter from Finbarr J. O’Neil says that the survey should be filled out by the person who drives the vehicle most often. That could be any of us. Lets go to page one:
  • What transmission type is your new vehicle? I think it is a CVT; the others in the family are clueless.
  • Do we have auto temperature control? I think so; the others in the family are clueless.
  • Does it have side airbags? Well, I certainly think it should have; the others in the family are clueless.
  • Does it have a Homelink system? We are all clueless.
  • Does it have tires and rims installed at the dealer? Or, the aftermarket? I know that the car came with these; the others in the family are clueless about what the term of art “aftermarket” really means. (Most dealers source accessories from the aftermarket … if I were to know this, how should I answer the question?)
At the end of page one I’m getting tired and confused. Of the 281 decisions I’m asked to make, I’ve just handled 29. I’m about 1/10th of the way through the survey. Page two requires me to make 161 decisions on things like the airbag/SRS light being broken, or in a poor location. Like getting wrong directions from my navigation system. Like my hands-free communication not recognizing a command. Or, the tire pressure monitoring system being broken? Three fourths of our family doesn’t know what an SRS light or tire pressure monitoring system is, and have never had any luck with navigation systems, so we just don’t use them. Inside of five minutes my younger daughter could figure out how to use a Tata navigation system programmed in Hindi. Finally, none of us talk to the Volt, though it is quite articulate. It is not that these questions are bad. It’s that they are largely irrelevant.

Ask yourself just three simple questions. Lets say you’ve put 700 miles on your new car with an automatic transmission … (1) Have you even used the parking brake once? (2) Do you know if won’t hold the vehicle? (3) Have you noticed excessive or uneven tire wear in those 700 miles? Or, do you just think that most of these questions are irrelevant? How carefully will you make the 281 decisions that the IQS survey asks?

Bottom Line: Years ago J.D. Power was useful in merchandising quality differences that existed between Japanese and Domestic cars. This “merchandising” was very effective in the media to establish consumer awareness of the Power report card. Toyota, Honda, Nissan got “A’s” and the Domestics flunked. That sure was easy to understand. It was a battle between cars that worked and cars that didn’t work. The Domestics lost gigantic market share … but, after a decade or so, they finally overcame the quality shortfall. Now J.D. Power is pushing a different sort of battleground merchandising. Now the war is between cars that have flawless infotainment systems and those that ain’t got them. This is supremely irrelevant in today’s market with today’s customers.

So, what's the real bottom line? Consumer Reports should carefully license use of its automotive survey results to the OEMs. CR's survey results are an inarguably valid representation of its more than one million-strong subscribers who take product quality very seriously. This should put the J.D. Power IQS out of our misery.