Detroit Automakers Beat Overseas Rivals in Initial Quality

Ford Motor Company, General Motors Company and Chrysler Group averaged 108 problems per 100 vehicles according to new J.D. Power and Associates survey results announced recently at an Automotive Press luncheon. That puts them ahead of Asian and European rivals, which average 109 problems per 100 vehicles.

J.D. Powers, a leading market research firm, said Detroit’s gains were helped by solid showings by the Ford Focus, Ford Fusion, Ram pickup truck and Buick Enclave. According to the study, overall quality of new cars and pickup trucks sold in the U.S. was marred by recent recall troubles concerning Toyota Motor Corporation vehicles. This is the first time Toyota’s quality rating has slipped in three years.

Domestic brands lead the pack in cars and pickups, and foreign brands were at the top in crossovers, vans and SUVs. The J.D. Powers survey is in its 24th year.

Ford models dominated the survey and got Detroit to its top position due to 12 Ford models ranking among the top three in their segments. The brand had less than one problem per new vehicle and moved from eighth place to fifth this year. It was also the top non-luxury brand in the survey.

On average, GM’s initial quality slipped below the industry average, and its ranking was hurt by the launch of new models like the Buick LaCrosse, Chevy Equinox, Camaro and Cadillac SRX. Chrysler brands improved but still fell below average.

For 2010, industry-wide quality was down—109 problems from 108 in 2009. Owners of 82,000 new vehicles were surveyed after 90 days of ownership to formulate the J.D. Power survey results. One reason for the drop in quality was Toyota’s drop to 21st place, with 117 problems reported per 100 vehicles.

Dave Sargent, vice president of global vehicle research at J.D. Power, said, “Clearly, Toyota has endured a difficult year.”

Detroit’s results mark a turnaround for the Big Three from a year ago, when bankruptcies tarnished consumer perceptions of GM and Chrysler and domestic brands in general.

Sargent said, “This year may mark a key turning point for U.S. brands as they continue to fight the battle against lingering negative perceptions of their quality. Achieving quality comparability is the first half of the battle. Convincing consumers—particularly import buyers—that they have done this is the second half.”

New or revamped model quality continued an upward trend in 2010 led by new vehicles from Ford, Honda, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche; however, in the past, the new models usually experience more quality problems than carryovers. This year, carryover and refreshed model quality actually fell.

At the bottom of the quality survey was Land Rover, which had 170 problems per 100 models. Mitsubishi, Volkswagen, Mini, Jaguar and Dodge were also near the bottom.

Sargent commented that “the oily parts” of the cars and trucks have been so improved over the years that chassis, transmission and engine problems are a thing of the past. New technology such as Bluetooth and navigation systems is what continues to cause trouble now. Sargent said, “The industry is still struggling to seamlessly integrate these features in a way that does not frustrate consumers. It can be anything from a voice recognition system that fails to recognize commands or a bad sensor that monitors tire pressure.”

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