168-The Price Advantage of Reliability

We use the Customer Buying Hierarchy to evaluate many developments in a market. This Customer Buying Hierarchy argues that customers buy Function, Reliability, Convenience and Price, in that order, when making a purchase. The customer does not buy until he finds one company who can offer him a benefit in a category of interest to him that no other competitor can offer.

In many markets, leadership in Reliability is the hallmark of the best competitors in the industry. That has been true until lately with Toyota in the automobile industry. Their once vaunted reputation for quality and durability, in other words Reliability, enabled them to command a premium of $1M to $2M on cars priced in the $20M to $25M range. This pricing advantage came about because customers would pay more for better Reliability. (See the Perspective, “Reliability: The Hard Road to Sustainable Advantage” on StrategyStreet.com.)

This is a somewhat incorrect description of how the market actually works. Toyota did not intentionally price its products higher than those of its competitors. Rather, it set its prices and then its competitors determined that they had to offer discounts of $1M to $2M in order to entice sufficient numbers of customers to purchase their products over those of Toyota. This competitive price discount pulled some customer attention away from Toyota’s Reliability, where the competitors were at a disadvantage, to price, where they had an advantage. (See “Audio Tip #68: Producing a Net Value Improvement for Customers” on StrategyStreet.com.) Of course, Toyota’s higher price enabled that company to make good profits while many competitors, most notably the domestic automobile producers, were racking up large losses in the industry.

Toyota’s advantage in price is slipping away quickly. Some analysts have estimated that prices for the Toyota cars on recall have fallen from $500 to $1500. Low interest rate financings often accompany these lower prices, compounding the discount and Toyota’s margin pain.

Toyota can recover from this loss of Reliability. However, its recovery is likely to take several years. In the meantime, its competition can and will improve their Reliability performance. Toyota may be a while regaining its former pricing premium.

Posted 3/4/10


US manufacturers have made impressive improvements in their reliability over the last several years. While they have certainly narrowed the gap with competition, the Korean and Japanese brands tend to lead industry dependability surveys. In the 2022 JD Power rankings, the top vehicle brands in the mass-market in order were: Kia, Buick, Hyundai, Toyota and Dodge. In the premium segment, the top brands were, in order: Genesis, Lexus, Porsche, Cadillac and Lincoln.   Still, the proof is in the used-car pricing.  In this measure, the Japanese manufacturers are the clear winners After five years, the brands with the highest resale values, in order, are: Subaru, Toyota, Volkswagen, Honda and Mazda. The fine reputation for quality the Japanese manufacturers enjoy commands a price premium in the used car market. Competitors may be closing in, especially the Koreans, but it takes years to build a solid reputation for reliability. See HERE for more perspective.



THE SOURCES FOR STRATEGYSTREET.COM: For over 30 years we observed the evolution of more than 100 industries, many hostile.  We put their facts into frameworks applicable to all industries and found patterns.  Strategystreet.com describes the inductive results of these thousands of observations and their patterns.