What Is J.D. Power Anyway?

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You’ve heard automaker after automaker brag about their lists of J.D. Power Awards, and yet, you likely know very little about who or what J.D. Power actually is. You are not alone. Most people have only heard the name from TV commercials.
So what is J.D. Power? It’s a marketing firm. That might not inspire a lot of trust in the validity of its awards system, but don’t discount it just yet. The way the firm chooses its winners is a little more complicated than “they’re bought by the auto giants.”
A man holding up 5 stars to symbolize a review
J.D. Power is always mentioned in commercials for cars, but what is it?

A short history of J.D. Power

James David Power III started J.D. Power with his wife Julie in 1968, they added “& Associates” either as a marketing ploy or to include the couple’s young children in the business name, depending on who you talk to. 
Vox says Power had a background in the automotive industry and market research that he sought to bring together with his own firm. He and Julie started by conducting independent surveys through the mail, asking consumers to rate their experiences with their new vehicles.
After the Powers discovered a major fault in a Mazda engine in 1973, automakers began lining up to pay for their research. Since then, the firm’s awards have been mentioned in over 350,000 TV spots and more than two billion print ads. In 2016, it was acquired for $1.1 billion.

How J.D. Power hands out its awards

Every year, J.D. Power conducts a number of surveys. Its most popular study, the Initial Quality Survey, asks owners of new vehicles to answer 200-questions intended to highlight any problems consumers had with their new car within the first 90 days of ownership. 
The vehicle with the fewest problems highlighted in the Initial Quality Survey wins the J.D. Power quality award. Awards are similarly given in regards to the three-year dependability survey and the 90-day performance survey.
As automakers add more features to new cars, the survey results become less about faulty parts and more about user experience. This has caused some scrutiny in recent years from industry experts who say the survey unfairly weighs defects and frustrations in equal measure.

Should I trust J.D. Power awards?  

Once you know how J.D. Power awards actually work, it’s easy to trust the results for what they are. As opposed to awards handed out by experts, like the Oscars, J.D. Power reflects customer satisfaction. They’re the People’s Choice Awards of the auto industry.
That said, J.D. Power’s market research can actually be very helpful for automakers. Results can reveal missteps with new features and allow them to correct issues in the next model year. 
As cars rely more heavily on computers and digital interfaces, user experience will become more important to nail down. 
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