J.D. Power: Truck quality up but for how long?

On the one hand, via its latest study of heavy-truck customer satisfaction, J.D. Power and Associates is reporting that overall quality of heavy-duty trucks has improved substantially in 2011, compared with the year before. But, on the other, the marketing-services firm contends “whether these quality gains can be sustained in the face of greater production and new emissions regulations remains in question

On the one hand, via its latest study of heavy-truck customer satisfaction, J.D. Power and Associates is reporting that overall quality of heavy-duty trucks has improved substantially in 2011, compared with the year before. But, on the other, the marketing-services firm contends “whether these quality gains can be sustained in the face of greater production and new emissions regulations remains in question.”

“In recent years, commercial vehicle manufacturers and suppliers have made great strides in improving the quality and reliability of heavy-duty trucks, but the focus will quickly turn toward maintaining these levels at a time of increased production volumes and the release of 2010 EPA-compliant engines,” explained Brent Gruber, senior manager of the commercial vehicle practice at J.D. Power and Associates.

As Gruber sees it, the trucking industry is “experiencing a significant sales recovery, led by replacement of aging trucks and buoyed by an improving U.S. economy, rising used-truck prices, and increases in export shipments.” The upshot he says is that higher demand “presents some challenges for both manufacturers and suppliers in maintaining existing quality levels, particularly as the increased build rates are coinciding with the release of new 2010 EPA emission engines.”

Historically, according to J.D. Power, customer satisfaction with heavy-duty trucks has declined immediately following the introduction of engines that meet revised EPA regulations. The firm stated that in 2010 and 2006, both heavy-duty truck and engine satisfaction declined immediately following the implementation and sale of engines meeting EPA regulations that were revised in 2007 and 2004, respectively.

“Engine reliability and dependability has the greatest impact on overall product satisfaction, so truck and engine manufacturers will need to pay particular attention to engine build quality as they increase truck build rates,” said Gruber.

The J.D. Power and Associates 2011 U.S. Heavy-Duty Truck Customer Satisfaction Study , shows that the quality of one-model-year-old Class 8 trucks has improved by 29 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) in 2011 vs. 2010.

Among trucks in service between 13 and 18 months, problems have decreased by 23% during the past six years, declining to an average of 198 problems per 100 trucks in 2011. That’s down from an average of 257 PP100 in 2006. Lower PP100 scores indicate a lower rate of problem incidences and therefore higher quality, according to the firm..

The study measures the “satisfaction of primary maintainers” of one-model-year-old Class 8 heavy duty trucks in three product segments: P&D, over-the-road and vocational. In each segment, explained J.D. Power, satisfaction is determined by examining six key factors: engine; transmission; ride/handling/braking; cab/body; cost of operation; and warranty.

In the latest survey, International ranks highest in heavy-duty truck customer satisfaction in the P&D, having improved from second rank position in 2010. International performs particularly well in all six factors, noted J.D. Power. Kenworth follows International in the segment rankings.

In the vocational segment, Peterbilt ranks highest and performs particularly well in the engine and cost of operation factors, said the firm. International follows Peterbilt in the segment rankings.

The study also measures satisfaction with service received from authorized truck dealer service departments by examining six factors: service delivery; service advisor; price; dealer facility; service quality; and service initiation.

Kenworth ranks highest in Class 8 customer satisfaction with dealer service and performs particularly well in the service facility factor, noted J.D. Power. Following Kenworth in the rankings are Peterbilt and Freightliner, respectively.

The 2011 Heavy-Duty Truck Customer Satisfaction Study is based on responses from 1,651 primary maintainers of one-model-year-old Class 8 heavy-duty trucks. The study was fielded in April and May 2011.

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