Average consumer sees a car’s quality as a fancy mixture of a reliability, performance, design, aesthetics, and own previous experiences, unlike as a combination of mechanical parts, software pieces, advanced materials, cutting-edge manufacturing processes, with technical knowledge, skills and high production volumes – all ingredients involved into the modern car creation. Quite often, “humans do not see and act on the physical qualities of things, but on what they mean to them.” Closing the door of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class limousine produces signature sound with a vault-like thunk, making us react by generating multisensory images within ourselves. Handling certain premium quality wood panels gives a more sophisticated tactile impression than with a cheap plastic. The first olfaction, when entering a new Cadillac vehicle, creates a feeling of luxury, very different from that in a used car sold by a nearby car dealer shop.
As one can see, understanding human’s perception of quality is a big challenge for researchers and practitioners. “What product features require the most attention for successful car design?” – The question engineers and designers need to answer under the pressure of shrinking product development time, a boost of available technologies, and financial limitations. Not to mention, the answer is expected to be given in numbers to sustain a fierce competition in the automotive industry. In that case, if a car manufacturing company wants to secure the ability to meet the consumer’s expectations, there is a need to control the perceived quality. Easy to say, hard to do.
Perceived quality is a complex, multifaceted adaptive system - a system where a human is the main agent. Therefore, many perceived quality attributes are difficult to define explicitly. This fact creates a “wicked problem” for any car manufacturer.
To confront the problem, we need to name it. For this reason, the perceived quality in engineering science has been defined and structured as the Perceived Quality Framework (PQF), in the form of a two-dimensional typology: (i) Technical Perceived Quality (TPQ), encompassing intrinsic attributes - everything that is part of a product and can be controlled by design and/or engineering specifications; (ii) Value-based Perceived Quality (VPQ), including extrinsic attributes - such as brand image, brand heritage, affective consumer judgments, design, hedonic or social values, the impact from other global attributes, advertising, and marketing promotion techniques.
The perceived quality domain is a place where the product meaning, form, sensorial properties, and their execution intersect with human experience. Such an experience is driven by the interplay between product quality and its context. The ultimate goal is to find the trade-off between perceived quality elements. This resulted in the creation of the Perceived Quality Attributes Importance Ranking (PQAIR) method. The novel methodology was created to assist the engineer or designer in the decision-making process regarding the relative importance of perceived quality attributes for the final product. The PQAIR method illuminates the interplay between technical characteristics of the product and customer perceptions. The successful implementation of the method can help find an answer to the question, “What makes you, as a consumer, to fall in love with a specific car?” This is, after all, a very “expensive” question. Billion-dollar decisions in the automotive industry often rely on predictions and assumptions about how a customer will perceive and evaluate such a complex product as a car. The ontology of PQF and its principles shifts the perceived quality evaluation processes towards the objective and reproducible side.