David Power, founder of influential J.D. Power car quality survey, dies at 89

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Power, a former financial analyst at Ford who later represented General Motors as a marketing research consultant for Marplan, launched J.D. Power and Associates in 1968 in the family’s kitchen in Calabasas, Calif.

His wife, Julie, was co-founder, and their three children were the associates.

Julie handled tabulations while their kids stuffed questionnaires and cover letters into envelopes, attaching quarters using tape as an incentive for recipients to return the survey.

It wasn’t until Julie noticed reports of Mazda breakdowns caused by defective O-rings while she was tabulating surveys in 1973 that J.D. Power and Associates gained distinction. Power wasn’t a car expert. He and Julie didn’t even know what an O-ring was, but they knew it was hurting the engine.

When the The Wall Street Journal reported Mazda’s engine problems, based on J.D. Power’s study, the company gained nationwide recognition and 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,” 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 J.D. Power and Associates 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.

It was a radical thought in 1968, but with a simple mantra — “the customer’s opinion matters” — Power slowly began to win over each automaker: Mazda and Toyota early on, forging on to General Motors, followed by Volvo, Hyundai and Mitsubishi.

In 1976, Power launched a dealer attitude survey that 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.

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Saurabh Shukla

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