NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration) receives complaints when a dealer or manufacturer resolution for their vehicle has not been reached. In the past, vehicle improvements have been based on production and warranty data, and not a huge focus on the “Customer Voice.” Why would a manufacturer not want to hear the customer voice?
In today’s computer and data-mining capabilities, many may think this would have been an easy task. Actually it couldn’t be further from the truth… Many trend and customer analysis data request were being done by mainframe programmers – such as I was a mainframe SAS programmer/analyst for a major automotive corporation. This could take weeks to get a data request granted to acquire such data, then you would have to manually count stacks of paper for a spreadsheet. A final analysis and vehicle production change could take anywhere from 6 months to 1 1/2 years and the production changes were typically not customer focused.
Lean Six Sigma and Continuous Improvements have been a primary concern over the past Five years as well as the “Customer Voice.” Through better and higher quality data, manufacturers are able to not only identify production improvements and consolidation efforts, but with company data like JD Powers, Consumer Reports, Motor Trend, etc., manufacturers are able to closely identify customer issues and take prompt action on them. All manufacturers have their own Customer data, but many of the truly dissatisfied customers will go to a third party and may never hear the customer’s voice.
NHTSA is one of those third parties where customers can submit a vehicle complaint. Their primary concern is Safety Related issues and their data will not reflect the full customer experience. This article is a trend analysis of NHTSA’s customer complaint data to demonstrate that vehicles are truly getting better, and the customer’s voice, or actually the dramatic reduction in the customer voice is proof in the pudding so-to-speak…
Below is the first chart showing the Top Five companies by total NHTSA complaints over the five year period from 2003 to 2007. Although the chart looks grim in 2003 and 2004 years, there is a steady and dramatic decline in complaints over the Five year period. A close tie between Chevrolet and Ford might be alarming as having almost twice the complaints of the other three companies, but keep in mind that if there are more vehicles in circulation, you are going to have a higher number of complaints. Failure rates may be in-line with other companies if you were to compare the number of complaints with N/A vehicles sold. Note: Non-OEM complaints were excluded from the analysis.
The top five Models that received complaints are highlighted for each of the top five companies below based on total quantity over a 5-year period. Is this significant? Yes. There are two primary factors in rating a vehicle, short-term durability and long-term durability. Short-term durability is typically within 120 days of vehicle purchase and commonly would not show up on NHTSA’s database yet – meaning the customer is still at the dealership trying to get their vehicle fixed. Long-term durability is commonly a 4 – 5 yr cycle, or when that manufacturer warranty expires. Many failures show up two to three years, or more, into the life cycle of a vehicle and the NHTSA data below reflects this. The top five models overall are Toyota Camry with 1,291 complaints, Chevrolet Silverado 1,171, Ford Explorer 1,152, Ford Focus 1035 and Dodge Durango with 946 complaints.
The Top five complaint categories are highlighted in the next chart over a Five-Year period. Ford had the most prominent concerns with Power Train at 1,199 complaints, Engine at 1,058 and Brake System at 1,053. Following is Chevrolet with Brakes at 1,112 and Steering at 1,102 complaints.
This chart of percent improvement by Year Versus Previous Year is very interesting. Toyota and Nissan indicated a significant drop in improvement, then bounced back in 2005 and have had a steady climb since. Note: 2003 improvement is based on 2002 data.
The rank of makes for this most improvement in 2007 compared to 2003 are shown below. Ford had the largest improvement in reduced customer complaints at 91.4%, while one of the leaders in Lean Six Sigma and Continuous Improvement business strategies came in last with an improvement of 52.1%.
Regardless of the Analysis results, there is a clear indicator that vehicles are definitely getting better and manufacturers are finally hearing the customer’s voice and appropriately acting upon their concerns. NHTSA customer complaints have reduced to an acceptable level for all companies. There are many reasons for this such as Prompt resolution of customer concerns, Better Trained Technicians, Constant and Rapid Improvement in production – parts are truly getting better…, better data analysis and data- mining capabilities that are Business User Friendly, etc. Even as I write this article, there are more new concepts for improvements being developed to achieve Lean Six Sigma goals. In return, this just flat out indicates better vehicles for a better society.