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GM Gains Ground on Imports

Maker posts major gains in reliability study; still lags Toyota.

by on Oct.30, 2012

Cadillac has been gaining ground with new models like the ATS.

Can General Motors close the quality gap?  The maker has long lagged key Asian rivals like Toyota and Honda, but a new study suggests it is rapidly gaining on the imports.  GM was the only member of the Detroit Big Three to improve its standing in the latest annual Consumer Reports automotive reliability study, a survey of 1.2 million of the non-profit magazine’s reader.  Rival Ford, by contrast, suffered a significant decline in the annual study.

Only German luxury maker Audi did better at improving its reliability, compared to GM’s own flagship Cadillac brand.

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The strong performance in the influential Automotive Reliability Study comes as vindication for the long and laborious effort GM has made to get a handle on endemic quality problems.  Industry analysts contend that years of poor quality resulted in significant market share losses for the giant U.S. maker – and contributed to the steady decline that plunged GM into bankruptcy in 2009.

Can a high-tech system like Caddy Cue appeal to Gen-X buyers and 72-year-olds, as well?

GM still lags key rivals, such as Toyota – whose Scion, Toyota and Lexus brands still landed 1,2 and 3 in the CR study – so Detroit officials admit theirs is still a work-in-progress.

“It’s a steady process improvement,” said Bob Ottolini, GM’s executive director of global quality, in an interview with

And it’s one that is focused on more than just short-term quality gains.  GM is clearly hoping to also make gains in studies like the closely-watched J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey, which measures “things-gone-wrong” during the first 90 days of ownership.  But “We want the customer back for their next car,” stresses Ottolini. And that means making sure that the maker’s vehicles remain trouble-free for 2, 3, even 5 years or more.

Significantly, “We’ve seen a 50% decrease in our warranty claims over the last five years,” added Alicia Boler-Davis, who oversees quality and the customer experience for GM in the U.S.

Both executives said they watch the results of surveys like CR’s reliability study and Power’s IQS quite closely.  Insiders suggest the maker has used such reports to set many of its own internal quality targets. But GM officials insist that you won’t succeed simply trying to figure out a way to beat the studies at their own game.

Part of GM’s strategy is to listen to what consumers are saying to find out “how to exceed customer expectations,” explains Ottolini.  You can’t simply focus on what engineers and planners think the customer wants, “or you’ll get a car built for engineers.”

One of the big surprises in the latest Consumer Reports study was the finding that quality levels haven’t significantly improved over the last five years.  A closer look, however, reveals that traditional mechanical problems, such as an engine or transmission failure, have become increasingly rare.  The big issues today are larger related to electrical and electronic systems, noted CR’s chief automotive researcher Jake Fisher.

And, in many cases, it’s not the result of a component failure – such as a radio that doesn’t work – but issues with the way those systems do work.  Ford, for example, saw its ranking in the latest CR study fall 14 points in large part due to complaints about the MyFordTouch infotainment system.

Perhaps the real test for GM – and Cadillac in particular – will come with next year’s reliability study. It will provide a measure of what consumers think about Caddy’s new touch-based CUE technology, introduced on the brand’s all-new ATS and XTS models. The system works much like the capacitive touch-based screen on an Apple iPhone.

The challenge, according to Ottolini, is to find a way to appeal to a broad swath of consumers.  While most buyers today want high-tech automobiles, the challenge is to distinguish between “what a 42-year-old is looking for compared to a 72-year-old.”  If GM and Cadillac are to continue improving their quality scores in the years ahead, they will have to find a way to appeal to both.





GM Quality


Bob Ottolini, Executive Director Global Program Quality
Alicia Boler-Davis, Vice president Global Quality and U.S. Customer Experience


Bob O.

-“in gen, we do internal analysis of our internal data” to get react to current prods and what they want for future prod

Alicia -“we’ve seen a 50% decrease in our warranty claims over last 5 yrs”

Bob: – 16 indiv models got Rec Buy from CR

-“in line with steady process imprvmt we put in place with a cust-based satisfy, (that goes beyond) the 90-day, out-of-box quality approach”

-notes “we want the cust back for the next car,” and that reqs longer-term reliability

-“we wd’v bn surprised” if the CR results were diff

-“I don’t think there were any specif surprises”

-pleasant news how well the new small cars did out of box

-also pleased by Volt; “shows we cd bring out the innovations in way to meet cust expect”

-“we’ve bn doing a lot of work around the cad cust”

-bn actively involving custs “in a prod bfr it comes out,” beyond simply helping pick which concept is best, but to “underst cust reqs”

-can’t quote a specific example of a study changing something

-“we 1st lk to see if we know wat’re they’re telling us (and if) it agrees with r internal data”

-“CR has specif told us to be worried about the noise of r veh”; it’s more than just decibels; “it’s the signature itself” (or sound quality)

-(complexity, qual and Caddy) “when u talk abt the opp to do it wrong we lk at the opp to exceed cust expects,” whether in infotainment or cruise ctrl, etc.

-touch and feel, sense of safety, etc.

-“u historically design to what u think u need as an eng, (but now there is) a focus on r custs”

-testing mechanical devices v electronic devices

-needs to recognize that there r a wide range of custs, incl those who want a high level of new tech

-“cert it’s going b an ongoing challenge”

-(watt k from Cad for other brands) caddy cust covers wide demog; it shows the HMI design and the need to appeal to various customers; “wat’s a 42-year-old looking for compared to a 72-year-old?”



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