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How reliable are reliability rankings? — A QFD and Kano perspective

(photo of VW microbus 1970s)When I bought my first new automobile in 1970, a red VW microbus (Type II Kombi), four high school friends and I planned a road trip across the Trans-Canadian highway from Detroit to Vancouver BC, and then down to San Francisco.

We picked up a couple of hitchhikers along the way and by the time we hit the Rocky Mountain foothills in Alberta, we could barely hit 40 mph in climbing speed. In Banff, our hitchhikers got out but not before helping push us to the local VW dealer where the fuel system needed major service, fortunately under the new car warranty. After all, the car only had 5,000 miles (8047 km) on it.

My second new automobile was a blue 6-cylinder Chevy Nova hatchback purchased in 1973. (photo of Chevy Nova 1973)Keeping it running required monthly tune-ups to replace the ignition points and adjust the timing. Also, the front bench seat upholstery was mismatched, with the shoulder trim on the right seat about 3 inches lower than on the left seat.

My point is this - that in the 1970s, reliability meant that the owner accepted that a new car would be delivered with defects and would require frequent service during the warranty period, typically 12 months or 12,000 miles (whichever came first).

This was not news to me. My first car was a used 1964 Ford Fairlane that I got in 1968.(photo of 1964 Ford Fairlan) It overheated every summer, even after replacing the radiator and water pump. It required ten minutes resting for every 30 minutes driving.

Of course, pressure from Japanese auto makers in the 1980s changed all that, thanks to Dr. Deming inspired TQM and undoubtedly, QFD.

Mechanical quality has gotten so good now that it no longer registers as a reliability problem. Getting from point A to point B, long considered the primary function of an automobile, is just about guaranteed (now 10 years or 100,000 miles). In fact, it took me two years before I even learned how to open the hood of my latest new car, a 2006 Toyota RAV 4.

So, you can imagine my surprise when Consumers Reports (CR) released its most recent automobile reliability report last month. According to this report, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 dropped from 13th place to 24 (out of 28 vehicles listed). Also dramatic was the fall from 6th place to 20th place for the Infiniti Q 50 and QX80. And what contributed to this downfall?

"Of the 17 problem areas CR asks about in its survey, the category that includes in-car electronics generated more complaints from owners than any other category.... (including) growing problems with other aspects of infotainment systems, including multi-use controllers."

In other words, syncing one's smart phone to the car is what consumers complain about most today. This proves the point that we have discussed previously. That is, in the terminology of Dr. Kano, desired (1-dimensional) mechanical quality has now shifted to expected (must-be) quality and is now unspoken (invisible). (new kano model case study)What was completely unknown (Kano-neutral) in the 1970s, such as infotainment syncing, is now exciting (attractive) quality but at the same time, this too is rapidly falling to desired (1-dimensional) quality.

No doubt the problems will soon be solved and pre-programmed devices will initiate the vehicle with all your preferences before you get in. This syncing will become expected quality.

So what will be the next exciters and delighters? This is a job for modern Blitz QFD® combined with the New Kano Model. Integration of these methods were presented in the 2014 QFD symposium, presented by Harold Ross, who was instrumental in introducing both methods when he was an engineer at General Motors. Detailed instructions are included in the QFD Black Belt® training.

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