Despite our comparatively small market, South African vehicle buyers not only have one of the widest selections of new vehicles in the world from which to choose, but they also benefit from very high quality standards in terms of vehicle quality and customer service. This favourable state of play is annually confirmed for local motorists via data from the various detailed surveys conducted by the South African subsidiary of the international research company, Ipsos.
The Ipsos vehicle quality survey underwent a major revamp in 2015 when its scope was extended to include vehicle design aspects as highlighted by owners, in addition to the ‘defects only’ approach of the previous survey structure.
This altered scores significantly as the average number of problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) measure went from 37 PP100 – the lowest in the 23-year history of this research – to a combined score of 81 PP100 for the combination of defect and design problems. “This increase is not indicative of reduced quality but rather because the methodology changed to allow for much greater sensitivity to the real customer experience”, explained Patrick Busschau, the Ipsos Automotive Business Unit Director. This year the combined figure is down to 73 PP100, an improvement of 10% in combined defect and design issues.
“As consumers, we can all be very pleased and proud to see that our automotive industry average has once again improved despite the addition of subjective design issues,” Busschau commented.
“This is a credit to the automotive industry because most problems linked to perceived design issues, which bother customers these days, are more likely related to their individual expectations and needs around the product experience. Measuring the product experience this way enables the manufacturers to truly address customer needs and to adjust their designs if necessary to align with their customer expectations. This is opposed to the past when only straight defects and production errors with the vehicle were used to calculate the PP100 scores.
“Now the goalposts have moved significantly and we have adapted our measurement system accordingly, to accept design issues in addition to concrete defects. There is a weighting applied as tangible defects have a slightly higher impact on the customer experience, so have a greater loading in the scoring,” explained Busschau.
This means the latest round of scores, for vehicles purchased in 2016, can no longer be compared with years prior to 2015. In that year the PP100 score for defects was 64, but it jumped to 81 when perceived design issues were added to the problem tally. This year the combined score improved to 73.
The research data in the latest survey was obtained from over 7 000 interviews with new owners who bought their vehicle during 2016. These vehicles must have been bought new through franchised dealer channels. Interviews were conducted telephonically by the Ipsos team and took place after the vehicles had been in service for about 90 days.
The 17 brands surveyed represent 72% of new vehicle sales in SA during 2016.
Ipsos confirms the following before an interview is deemed to be valid: customer identity; eliminating employment bias (to ensure the person is not employed by a dealer, manufacturers, or distributor); vehicle must have been purchased new; the vehicle may not have been involved in an accident; and the customer must use the vehicle in his or her own personal capacity.
The manufacturers or distributors provide the names of the buyers, which are then quality-checked before being supplied to the Computer-Assisted Telephonic Interviewers (CATI).
Fuel consumption was the biggest cause for customer complaint in 13 of the 16 vehicle model segments into which Ipsos divided the SA market. This issue is driven to a broader degree by the high price of fuel and the continual changes in price, with the current prevailing inflationary conditions we see.
The only categories that did not rate fuel consumption as the biggest bugbear were Sports Coupe (park assist issues), Multi-Purpose Vehicles (road holding) and Large Recreational Vehicles (satellite navigation systems difficult to operate). However, fuel consumption was still second for both MPV and Large Recreational Vehicles with engine malfunction being the second biggest gripe for Sports Coupe owners.
Low performance, road holding, unspecified noises and audio malfunction were the other vehicle quality complaints that were rated second highest by the buyers surveyed. The complex technology systems found in today’s vehicles resulted in matters such as information system issues and tyre-sensor issues being listed among the third-ranked complaints.
An interesting insight is that there were more complaints with imported passenger cars than those made locally, whereas in the LCV market it was the other way around, with locally-made models rated lower than the imports. It must be remembered that these days more than 70% of the cars sold in SA are imported models.
On average, ‘hard’ defects counted for 38 PP100 and ‘softer’ design issues for 22 PP100 in terms of locally-made passenger cars, while for imported cars the defects totalled 41 PP100 and design aspects 27. In the case of LCVs, the split was 54 PP100 for defects and 32 for design on locally-built models, while in the case of imported LCVs it was 39 PP100 for defects and 28 for design.
“There is some good consistency in the results because despite 17 brands being represented in this very robust survey only seven brands collected gold awards, with ten going to Toyota, eight to Nissan, six to Volkswagen, and 5 to Audi. Ford collected two gold awards with Opel and Renault collecting one each. These awards included Volkswagen and Toyota tying on 60 points for the best local plants manufacturing passenger cars. In some cases, the difference between the various brands is too small to separate, so both qualify for gold,” added Busschau.
The Passenger Car category was closely contested, with Audi, Volkswagen and Toyota each collecting four gold awards, while Nissan picked up three and Ford two.
In the Recreational Vehicle category Toyota was awarded gold twice, followed by Audi, Renault, and Opel with one gold award each.
It was Nissan, with five gold awards, which came out top in the Light Commercial vehicle category, followed by Toyota (4) and Volkswagen (2).