The quality of vehicles produced under Thailand’s eco-car program is lower than in other vehicle segments, and J.D. Power Asia Pacific says it’s essential auto makers quickly identify and fix the core quality issues reported by the new owners.

The research firm also finds the number of complaints drops when dealers do a better job of explaining the new cars to their owners.

Initial quality in the compact-car segment, which includes hatchbacks produced under the government-sponsored eco-car program, averages 132 problems experienced per 100 vehicles, the highest number reported among all vehicle segments examined in the study.

Overall initial quality of Thai-built vehicles averages 116 pp100 vehicles this year, compared with 113 in 2011.

The study measures problems owners experience with their new vehicle during the first two to six months of ownership and examines more than 200 problem symptoms covering eight categories.

These categories, listed in order of frequency of reported problems, are vehicle exterior; engine and transmission; driving experience; heating and air conditioning; audio, entertainment and navigation; vehicle interior; seats; and features, controls and displays.

The Thailand Initial Quality Study conducted by J.D. Power’s Singapore operation, is based on evaluations by 4,674 owners who purchased their new vehicle between October 2011 and July 2012. The survey covers 13 makes that include 77 car, pickup-truck and utility-vehicle models.

J.D. Power Singapore Senior Manager Loic Pean says small hatchback models are gaining popularity in Thailand, boosted by the success of the government-sponsored eco-car program and first-time new-buyer incentives.

“Given the growing sales of compact cars, it is important for manufacturers to deliver the same levels of build quality offered in the other vehicle segments,” Pean says. “It is, therefore, essential to quickly identify and fix the core quality issues reported by new owners of small hatchbacks.”

Problems cited most often by owners of small hatchbacks involved excessive wind noise and noisy brakes, followed by excessive fan-blower noise and air-conditioning failing to cool the cabin quickly enough and unusual transmission noises.

J.D. Power says the survey shows that when a salesperson explains how to operate features in the vehicle before or at the time of purchase, owners report fewer initial- quality problems.

On average, owners given an explanation of their vehicle’s features experience 114 pp100 vehicles, compared with 165 by those who do not receive the information – a 45% increase.

“Salespeople play an important role in managing vehicle-owner expectations and reducing owner perceptions of quality issues during the buying process, particularly for first-time buyers,” Pean says.

J.D. Power says vehicle problems, particularly those experienced during the initial ownership period, lead not only to increased owner dissatisfaction but also to lower levels of customer loyalty and advocacy.

Owners who experience an initial quality problem are much less likely to re-purchase or recommend the same make, compared with those who do not experience such a problem.

Among owners indicating they experienced no problems with their new vehicle, 67% say they definitely would purchase the same make again, compared with 55% among those who experienced one or more problems.

Results by segment:

  • Compact car: Honda Brio ranks the best with 116 problems per 100 vehicles, followed by Suzuki Swift Eco (118 pp100) and Nissan March (129).
  • Entry-level midsize car: Honda Jazz (87), Mazda2 Sports (95), Toyota Vios (98).
  • Midsize car: Toyota Prius (65), Honda Civic (98), Toyota Corolla Altis (105).
  • SUV: Toyota Fortuner (87), Chevrolet Captiva (121), Mitsubishi Pajero Sport (140).
  • Single-cab pickup: Isuzu D-Max Spark (86), Mitsubishi Triton S-Cab (103), Toyota Hilux Vigo Champ S-Cab (116).
  • Extended-cab pickup: Toyota Hilux Vigo Champ Prerunner Smart Cab (89), followed by Mitsubishi Triton X-Cab (116) and Nissan Frontier Navara Calibre X-Cab (117).
  • Double-cab pickup: Toyota Hilux Vigo Champ Prerunner (96), Isuzu D-Max Cab-4/ V-Cross 4 door (101), Toyota Hilux Vigo Champ D-Cab (119).