David James Power III, founder of the influential J.D. Power Car Quality Survey, has died at age 89.
Power was a former financial analyst at Ford. Later, he represented General Motors as a market research consultant before launching J.D. Power and Associates in 1968 from his kitchen in Calabasas, California. Power’s wife, Julie, was co-founder of the new company. Their three children were the company’s early associates. Thus, the name J.D. Power and Associates.
Julie handled tabulations while their children stuffed questionnaires and cover letters into envelopes. They attached quarters to their mailings as an incentive for recipients to return the survey via mail.
It was a radical thought back in 1968, but the company had a simple mantra — “the customer’s opinion matters.” Power slowly began to win over automakers with his survey. Mazda and Toyota lathed on early, followed by GM. After that, Volvo, Hyundai, and Mitsubishi also accepted the J.D. Power survey as important data.
In 1976, Power launched a dealer attitude survey. It detailed retail and distributor issues and helped establish a strong rapport with auto retailers. That study preceded the National Automobile Dealers Association’s own Dealer Attitude Survey, which was launched in the 1980s.
Rise to Prominence
However, J.D. Power didn’t really gain distinction until 1973. That’s when Julie notices a trend of Mazda breakdowns caused by defective O-rings while tabulating survey results. While neither David nor Julie were automotive engineers — Julie didn’t even know what an O-ring was — they knew it was hurting the engine.
The The Wall Street Journal reported on Mazda’s engine problems, based on J.D. Power’s study. After that, the company gained nationwide recognition. It gradually became a leading voice of customer data.
“Lo and behold we were in nearly every newspaper in the world and on the radio in 24 hours,” David Power recalled in an interview with The Boston Globe in 2014. “The name J.D. Power started to get a lot of recognition.”
Power sold the company to McGraw-Hill in 2005. London-based XIO acquired J.D. Power from S&P Global Inc., formerly McGraw-Hill, in 2016 for $1.1 billion. It merged with Autodata Solutions in 2019, putting it under the ownership of Thoma Bravo, a private equity firm with offices in San Francisco and Chicago.
To this day, consumers put a lot of faith in J.D. Power’s survey results. Rating fields from safety to reliability, comfort to value, the J.D. Power awards matter around the world.