Engines may temper future customer satisfaction, J.D. Power says

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Overall quality of heavy-duty trucks has improved substantially in 2011, compared with 2010, but whether these quality gains can be sustained in the face of greater production and new emissions regulations remains in question, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2011 U.S. Heavy-Duty Truck Customer Satisfaction Study released Thursday, June 30.

The study finds that quality of one-model-year-old Class 8 trucks has improved by 29 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) in 2011, compared with 2010. Among trucks in service between 13 and 18 months, problems have decreased by 23 percent during the past six years, declining to an average of 198 problems per 100 trucks in 2011from an average of 257 PP100 in 2006. Lower PP100 scores indicate a lower rate of problem incidences and therefore higher quality.

“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,” says Brent Gruber, senior manager of the commercial vehicle practice at J.D. Power and Associates.

According to Gruber, the U.S. 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. As a result, the 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 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-compliant engines.

Historically, customer satisfaction with heavy-duty trucks has declined immediately following the introduction of engines that meet revised EPA regulations. 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.

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“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,” Gruber says.

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

International ranks highest in heavy-duty truck customer satisfaction in the pickup-and-delivery segment, improving from second-rank position in 2010. International performs particularly well in all six factors. Kenworth follows International in the segment rankings.

In the vocational truck segment, Peterbilt ranks highest and performs particularly well in the engine and cost of operation factors. 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 adviser, 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. 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.