Toyota Leads J.D. Power Dependability Study While Ford, GM Gain

Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) led automakers with the fewest problems reported by owners of its three-year- old cars, while Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. (GM) brands were among the most improved, according to J.D. Power & Associates.

Toyota’s Lexus luxury brand topped the industry, its Toyota and Scion brands placed in the top five, and the automaker had the most models lead their respective segments for the seventh consecutive year, J.D. Power said today in a statement. Strides by Ford’s namesake brand and GM’s Cadillac and Chevrolet helped the industry average for problems per 100 vehicles fall to the lowest in the study’s 22-year history.

Automakers’ brand image and their ability to retain buyers are affected by the dependability of their vehicles, according to Westlake Village, California-based J.D. Power. The industry averaged 132 problems per 100 vehicles from the 2009 model year, down from 151 in last year’s study and 155 the year before. Of the 32 brands in this year’s survey, 25 improved from a year earlier.

“This is good news both for owners -- who are holding onto their vehicles for longer than ever -- and manufacturers, since perception of quality and dependability is a critical factor in vehicle purchase decisions,” David Sargent, J.D. Power’s vice president of global automotive research, said in the statement.

Toyota’s Lexus brand owners reported 21 percent fewer problems per 100 vehicles. The brand topped the industry for the first time since 2008, with 86 problems per 100 vehicles. The Toyota City, Japan-based automaker’s Scion brand also reduced problems per 100 vehicles by one third, the biggest percentage improvement in this year’s survey.

Ford, Cadillac

Ford (F)’s namesake-brand vehicle owners reported 11 percent fewer problems per 100 vehicles to 124, the eighth-lowest among in the industry, and its Lincoln luxury brand placed seventh at 116. The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker had three models rank at the top of their segment, behind only Toyota, which had eight.

GM’s Cadillac improved with 20 percent fewer problems per 100 vehicles at 104, vaulting the Detroit-based automaker’s luxury brand to third in the industry behind Lexus and Porsche AG (PAH3)’s namesake with 98. GM’s Chevrolet brand owners reported 13 percent fewer problems per 100 vehicles to 135, slightly worse than the industry average.

U.S. automakers narrowed the gap of problems per 100 vehicles compared with import brands to 13 problems from 18 a year earlier, according to J.D. Power.

Daimler AG (DAI)’s Mercedes-Benz jumped two spots to sixth place in the dependability rankings, with 112 problems per 100 vehicles. The others that were above the industry average were GM’s Buick at No. 9, Hyundai Motor Co. (005380)’s Hyundai No. 10, Honda Motor Co.’s Acura No. 11 and the Honda brand at No. 12.

Chrysler Lags

The predecessors of Chrysler Group LLC and GM filed for bankruptcy in 2009, the model year that J.D. Power studied for this year’s survey. The Auburn Hills, Michigan-based automaker’s Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram were the four worst brands, even as Jeep problems per 100 vehicles fell by 16 percent, Dodge decreased by 11 percent and Chrysler pared 5 percent.

Chrysler Group is now majority owned by Fiat SpA. (F)

Volkswagen AG (VOW)’s namesake and Audi luxury brands placed below the industry average, with 169 problems for Volkswagen and 148 problems for Audi per 100 vehicles. Audi owners reported 8.1 percent fewer problems than a year earlier, while Volkswagen owners reported 12 percent fewer.

Nissan Motor Co. (7201)’s Nissan improved while its Infiniti luxury division lost ground. The Nissan brand had 17 percent fewer problems per 100 vehicles, while Infiniti had 14 percent more problems.

Tata Motors Ltd. (TTMT)’s Jaguar, the U.K.-based luxury brand acquired from Ford in 2008, plummeted to 28th place among 32 brands, from third in last year’s study. Problems per 100 vehicles surged to 172, 54 percent more than a year earlier.

J.D. Power’s study this year is based on a survey of more than 31,000 original owners of 2009 model-year vehicles conducted between October and December 2011.

Toyota Recalls

Toyota’s recalls of more than 10 million vehicles, most for unintended acceleration, began in late 2009 and may not affect results until later surveys. The Toyota brand dropped to its worst-ever ranking in J.D. Power’s new-car quality study of 2010 model-year vehicles, which measures problems in the first 90 days of ownership and included some of the recalled vehicles.

Toyota’s models that earned top honors in their segments include the Lexus ES 350 sedan and RX 350 sport-utility vehicle, and the Toyota Prius hybrid, Tundra pickup and Sienna minivan. Ford’s Fusion mid-size sedan, Explorer SUV and Lincoln MKZ sedan topped their respective segments. GM and Yokohama, Japan-based Nissan each had two models that were segment leaders.

To contact the reporter on this story: Craig Trudell in Southfield, Michigan, at ctrudell1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net

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