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(J.D. Power)

JD Power launches new vehicle-engineering award at SAE’s WCX 2019

Long known for its groundbreaking surveys measuring automotive customer satisfaction, quality and dependability—and presenting corresponding awards to top-achieving OEMs—marketing information and analytics firm JD Power is launching two new engineering-related awards for development teams responsible for each year’s best all-new vehicle and best redesigned vehicle.

JD Power is partnering with SAE International to announce at this year’s SAE World Congress Experience (WCX) the winners for the inaugural 2018 Engineering Award for Highest-Rated All-New Vehicle and Engineering Award for Highest-Rated Vehicle Redesign. 

Doug Betts, JD Power Senior Vice President and General Manager, Global Automotive Operations, conceived the awards. A mechanical engineer, he thought it was time the firm known for intensive consumer metrics used those same measures to acknowledge the work of engineering teams that develop all-new vehicles or significantly redesigned models.

“Having been in the industry for a long time and working towards winning J.D. Power (consumer) awards or other achievements, I recognized that there was not an opportunity or a venue where engineers are sort of publicly rewarded for what they have done among their larger group of peers,” he told Automotive Engineering.

“It started with my personal interests in creating some opportunity for engineers to be recognized based on what they'd done. And when you start thinking about that, then obviously the first thing you think of is SAE.”

Engineering all-new, redesigned vehicles

Betts said the criteria for the new awards are based on merging the results of JD Power’s annual initial-quality study (IQS) and APEAL (Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout) survey. The APEAL Study measures owners’ “emotional attachment and level of excitement across 77 attributes, ranging from the power they feel when they step on the gas to the sense of comfort and luxury they feel when climbing into the driver’s seat,” the firm said. The well-known IQS New-vehicle measures new-vehicle quality by the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles (PP100) reported by consumers during the first 90 days of ownership.

A description of the awards, given for the first time for the 2018 calendar year:

  • The J.D. Power Engineering Award for Highest-Rated All-New Vehicle is presented to the engineering team responsible for the highest-rated new entry into the market for the 2018 Model Year. The award, based on consumer evaluations of Initial Quality and Appeal, is for the vehicle introduced for the 2018 Model Year that is furthest ahead of its direct competitors.
  • The J.D. Power Engineering Award for Highest-Rated Vehicle Redesign is presented to the engineering team responsible for the highest-rated redesigned vehicle for the 2018 Model Year. The award, based on consumer evaluations of Initial Quality and Appeal, is for the 2018 Model Year vehicle that is furthest ahead of its predecessor.

Betts emphasized that the new awards—and the metrics behind them—are particularly rewarding not just of engineering teams execute their core functions with particular excellence, but also those who learn from and act effectively on customer feedback.

“Just to make sure we're clear on the background or the motive behind this, to do the things that we're rewarding—especially given that the feedback is coming from the owners of those vehicles—the skill we're trying to reward is really collecting data and the listening to customers. Because if you don't—and there are some industry's methods of doing that—but if you don't do that, well, you can be a great engineer and make a vehicle for engineers, but vehicles that are made for engineers usually are failures because people who own cars don't think the same way as engineers.

“This is about listening to the voice of the customer,” Betts continued, “understanding what they're saying and why they're saying it, then trying to make a new product that will really answer those needs that they have. And that's the skill which is not a natural skill for an engineer.”

Each year’s award for the all-new vehicle will be based on “a new entry into segment that that company has not been in and it comes in at the highest position relative to the others in that segment,” Betts said. It seems likely that the expanding universe of electric vehicles (EVs) will produce many new vehicles—and new segments, potentially—in the coming years, as electrification transitions into the current combustion-dominated market.  

Meanwhile, Betts said that although there’s often disagreement about what constitutes a redesigned vehicle, but “most everybody in the business sort of knows what a refresh is versus an all new generation of something. I doubt you'll truly get much argument about this in the future.”

He said both awards are meant to address something that’s not been acknowledged before: the combination of understanding the voice of the customer and merging that with the task of vehicle integration. “It's like taking all these pieces and putting them together and making a great overall car. And a great overall car needs to be judged that way by the owners of the car.”

“It’s not about what J.D. Power the company thinks about anything,” he stressed. “This is a unique combination of data that we think is appropriate for what we're trying to recognize here, which is an achievement by a team of engineers to do something better than their colleagues. It won't necessarily be the best vehicle or something that's already been won, because each of our studies covers a different subject.”

JD Power’s two new vehicle-engineering awards will be presented at the SAE’s WCX in Detroit on April 9, 2019; more information on WCX can be found at: https://www.sae.org/attend/wcx

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