Why Did Chevrolet Take Down the Ad Claiming It Had the Most Reliable Cars?

If you only saw the ad’s headline, you might have thought it was a harmless TV spot. “Chevy Surprises Competitive Owners When It Comes to Reliability,” it read. Maybe it could have touched on the impression that Chevrolet was not particularly reliable and surprised owners by showing how the brand improved. That might have worked.

Yet the ad went much further. After a spokesman asked Chevy’s famous “real people” if they thought Ford, Honda, or Toyota was “the most reliable car company,” he wowed them by revealing the answer was Chevy. That struck us as misleading at best and, after reviewing Chevy’s data behind the claim, concluded it was an incredibly weak claim.

It turns out we weren’t the only ones watching closely. Representatives from the three automakers the ad mentioned quickly contacted GM and told the auto giant to take down the ad, The Detroit News reported. After reviewing its options, Chevy decided to pull the spot from local and national airwaves January 16.

Chevy: Ad is “out of the regular rotation.”

Still from Chevy’s now-removed commercial on YouTube. | Chevrolet

In a statement to Detroit Free Press, a Chevrolet spokeswoman said the brand “stands by the reliability claims” in the ad and that it “remains in the brand’s toolbox.” So why did the automaker take down the ad? According to the Chevy rep, the decision to “launch new Silverado creative” was the reason (not concerns with its accuracy).

Honda, which told the Free Press it had challenged the ad, might disagree. Ford spokesman Mike Levine, who called the ad “false and misleading” on Twitter, would likely offer another reason as well. (For its part, Toyota confirmed it discussed the matter with GM and expected the ad to come down.)

Looking at the evidence at hand, we have a hard time believing Chevy pulled the ad because its competitors complained. (When was the last time GM worried about angering its competitors?) The obvious answers comes back to the claims it made, which I noted in a January 6 post on the commercial.

Consumer Reports vs. Chevy’s Ipsos survey

The Chevrolet Traverse ranked among Consumer Reports’ least reliable cars for 2019. | Chevrolet

As I wrote on the subject four days before the widely cited Jalopnik article appeared, Chevy’s source for the reliability claim turned out to be much thinner than Consumer Reports surveys. Those annual rituals include around 500,000 responses. In the reliability survey Ipsos did for Chevy, fewer than 50,000 vehicle owners (i.e., less than 10%) responded.

With those numbers in mind, it’s no wonder Chevy offered details on the ad in fine print. In the past two years, Chevy ranked in the bottom 10 of Consumer Reports reliability ratings. (In 2019, the brand placed 23rd among 29 companies evaluated.) Two Chevy vehicles also landed in the 10 least reliable models this past year.

Consumer Reports uses high response numbers and averages the previous three years of data to get its annual ratings. That’s likely the reason why car buyers trust them over, say, J.D. Power Dependability ratings. To come to its conclusions, J.D. Power looks back at surveys from three-year-old cars, and Chevy actually did fare better than its top competitors there.

That system sounds rather similar to the Ipsos study Chevy used for its now-pulled TV commercial. The only problem? J.D. Power released its 2018 dependability ratings with fewer than 37,000 responses. That’s even lower than the number of responses used for the survey Chevy commissioned.

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