Do quality and ease of use go hand-in-hand?

If you are to believe the news reports, quality is slipping. According to the J.D. Power and Associates 2011 U.S. Initial Quality Study (IQS), after an improvement in the quality of newly launched models every year from 2007 to 2010, the initial quality of 2011 new model launches has declined considerably.

Overall initial quality improves to an average of 107 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) in 2011 from 109 PP100 in 2010. However, the initial quality of launch models-those that are all-new or have had major redesigns-worsens by 10% to an average of 122 PP100 in 2011 from 111 PP100 in 2010. Conversely, carryover models-those that have had no significant redesign in the past year-have better initial quality than ever before. Owners of these vehicles report an average of just 103 PP100 in 2011, compared with 108 PP100 in 2010.

“Exciting models with the latest features are crucial for winning over today’s demanding consumers,” says David Sargent, vice president of global vehicle research at J.D. Power and Associates. “However, automakers must not lose their focus on the importance of these models also achieving exceptional quality levels. Expected reliability continues to be the single most-important reason why new-vehicle buyers choose one model over another, and no manufacturer can afford to give consumers any doubts regarding the quality of their latest products.”

The study notes that the decline in vehicle launch quality is evident in a number of areas, including the engine/transmission and audio/entertainment/navigation categories. The two primary causes for this quality decline:

As automakers are designing engine and transmission software to meet government regulations and make their models as economical as possible, this sometimes leads to the engine or transmission “hesitating” when accelerating or changing gears. Consumers this year are reporting this as a problem more often than in past years.

Automakers are accelerating the introduction of multimedia technology into their models, including hands-free and voice-activation systems. Many consumers want this technology, which is perceived to enhance convenience and safety, but some vehicle owners report that their system is not intuitive and/or does not always function properly.

It strikes me that the ease of use of an item and its functioning properly are lumped into the same category. A system that is not intuitive doesn’t mean it is of poor quality. To my knowledge, no one I know has ever suffered more than a paper cut reading an owner’s manual. Besides, what is intuitive to me isn't necessarily intuitive to you.

I receive myriad press releases every week on new equipment and software that the manufacturer labels as “intuitive” and “user friendly.” Certainly not all of the systems and software can be used right out of the box, but does that mean they are low–quality products? Certainly not.

Should ease of use and quality be lumped into the same category? Share your thoughts with me at[email protected], or with other members of the Quality community at the Quality Magazine LinkedIn Group page, theQualityFacebook page and on Twitter at