General Motors Co. (GM), boosting the reliability of Cadillac and Chevrolet models, had its best performance ever in J.D. Power & Associates’ new-car quality survey, with three of four brands above the industry average.
Toyota Motor Corp. (7203)’s Lexus luxury line topped the survey for the second consecutive year and its namesake brand ranked eighth. Honda Motor Co. had the highest-rated mainstream brand at No. 5, one spot ahead of its Acura luxury line. Jaguar leaped 18 spots to a tie for second with Porsche AG. BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Nissan Motor Co.’s Infiniti also placed in the top 10.
GM’s Cadillac luxury line climbed to fourth from ninth on the Westlake Village, California-based market research firm’s Initial Quality Study, which measures consumer complaints in the first 90 days of ownership. GM’s GMC truck and sport-utility vehicle brand ranked 12th, while Chevy was 15th, just above the industry average, J.D. Power said today in a statement. GM’s Buick brand ranked 17th, two levels below the industry average.
“This is GM’s best performance in the 26-year history of the study,” David Sargent, J.D. Power vice president for global vehicle research, said in an interview. “They’ve come a long way, they’ve focused their attention on four brands and a smaller product lineup.”
Ford Motor Co. (F) continued to suffer from complaints about its touch-screen dashboard controls, as its namesake brand fell for a second year to 27th and Lincoln remained below-average at 18th. Ford, which ranked fifth in the study two years ago, was one of only five brands to fall in the study. Twenty-six brands improved, and one, Lexus, stayed the same, while Fiat and Smart were not in the rankings last year.
J.D. Power’s study is a bellwether quality survey that helped established Honda’s and Toyota’s reputations for reliability in the U.S. The study is considered an indicator of long-term dependability, which leads to better resale value. Automakers work hard each year to improve their scores.
Jaguar, owned by India’s Tata Motors Ltd. (TTMT), jumped on the strength of its XJ model, which was the most improved vehicle in the survey, Sargent said. The car was new in 2010, when it had more than 40 problems per 100 cars just on its navigation system in last year’s survey, said David Pryor, Jaguar North America vice president.
“There are some misperceptions out there about where our quality is from the past,” Pryor said in a telephone interview. “This is one of those really strong proof points out there for consumers that quality has gotten a lot better at Jaguar.”
GM’s Chevy Malibu was the top ranked mid-size car, beating out the Ford Fusion and Honda Accord, which tied for second. The GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado were the top two full-size pickups, while the Cadillac SRX ranked third among mid-sized premium SUVs.
The Cadillac Escalade, which won the large premium SUV category, was the third best vehicle in the study, behind the Lexus LS and the Porsche 911, Sargent said.
“We’ve moved well ahead of the other domestic brands,” Bob Ottolini, GM’s executive director of global quality strategy, said today in an interview. “We really don’t want this disclaimer that says you’re better than the domestics. You really want to be looking at what it takes to be in the top.”
GM this year is replacing the Malibu with a redesigned version of the car. The Detroit-based automaker was helped by not having many new model introductions, Sargent said.
“GM had a year when they didn’t have a lot of big launches, where there is more opportunity for things to go wrong” he said. “GM was swimming with the tide a bit this year.”
Chrysler Group LLC also rose in the rankings, led by its Ram truck brand climbing to 14th, two spots above the industry average. Last year, Chrysler had no above-average brands and its Dodge line was the market’s worst. This year, Dodge ranked 29th, tied with Mitsubishi and Volkswagen and leading small-car brands Mini, Fiat and Daimler’s Smart.
“Chrysler improved more quickly than the average,” Sargent said. “But they’re coming off a fairly low base, so as a whole, they’re still below average.” Chrysler is majority owned by Fiat SpA. (F)
Chrysler’s Jeep brand improved one step to rank 23rd on the strength of the Grand Cherokee, which was in a four-way tie for third place among mid-size SUVs. Chrysler’s namesake brand fell to 25th place this year, from 16th last year.
Chrysler has boosted headcount in the division of the company that works on quality by about 40 percent since May 2009 to more than 1,100 employees, Ann Smith, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
“We value customer feedback, including IQS, and use it to continuously improve our products,” Doug Betts, Chrysler’s senior vice president of quality, said in a statement.
Ford’s fall can be attributed almost entirely to consumer complaints about its MyFord Touch dashboard controls, Sargent said. Its Mustang, Taurus and Expedition SUV, none of which are equipped with MyFord Touch, all ranked best in their categories.
“If it wasn’t for the MyFord Touch system, Ford would be average or better,” Sargent said. “But Ford is going to roll this technology on to more and more vehicles. So as it becomes more prevalent across the Ford portfolio, there is a danger that things will get worse before they get better.”
It could take Ford two to three years to fix the problems with its touch-screen controls, Sargent said.
Ford sent a software upgrade to 377,000 owners in March after J.D. Power had completed its survey. Ford said yesterday the results of that fix would show up in next year’s rankings.
“We remain absolutely committed to continuously improving our vehicles,” Said Deep, a Ford spokesman, said in a statement.
Honda’s namesake brand slipped from second to fifth. Honda’s CR-V was the top-ranked compact SUV, the Japanese automaker’s only category winner. Last year, Honda topped seven vehicle categories, including compact car. While the redesigned Civic, criticized by Consumer Reports magazine, lost the category crown, it remained among the segment’s top three.
Honda’s CR-Z and Fit factory in Suzuka, Japan, received J.D. Power’s highest award for plant quality. Honda’s Marysville, Ohio, factory, which makes the Accord and Acura TL, was the second-highest ranked plant in North and South America, trailing only Toyota’s Lexus RX plant in Cambridge, Ontario.
“Honda, historically, has been one of the best, if not the best, manufacturer at avoiding launch issues and getting the vehicle right before they put it out on the street,” Sargent said. “And they’ve done it again this year.”
Toyota’s namesake brand, after stumbling two years ago during recalls over unintended acceleration, had its second consecutive year in the top eight, slipping one spot from last year even as its score improved 13 percent to 88 problems per 100 vehicles. Toyota’s Corolla won the compact-car segment and was the top non-premium vehicle in the survey, Sargent said.
Toyota’s Lexus line equaled its market-leading performance last year with 73 problems per 100 vehicles. The LS was the top-ranked premium car, the ES 350 was first among entry-premium cars and the RX topped the mid-size premium SUV category.
Nissan (7201)’s namesake brand rose to 13th from 24th place last year. The Yokohama, Japan-based company’s Infiniti luxury line ranked 7th, up one place from last year.
Hyundai Motor Co. (005380), South Korea’s largest automaker, fell to 18th place, from 11th last year and scored below the industry average for the second straight year. Its affiliate, Kia Motors Corp. (000270), tied with Hyundai and Ford’s Lincoln brand, with 107 problems per 100 vehicles. Kia’s performance improved 5 percent.
Small-car brands Fiat and Smart were added to the survey this year, bringing the number of makes to 34. They tied for the worst scores.
J.D. Power said its study was based on surveys of more than 74,000 purchasers of 2012 model-year cars, trucks and SUVs. Owners answered a 228-question survey about their first 90 days of ownership. The study was conducted between February and May. J.D. Power is a unit of McGraw-Hill Cos.
J.D. Power cited plants producing Toyota, Lexus, Honda, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche models for quality awards. No U.S. automaker received a quality citation for a factory from J.D. Power for the second consecutive year.
“It certainly doesn’t seem to be the people who work on the line,” Sargent said of U.S. automakers being shut out of factory awards again. “It’s more around the design of the product. The Japanese historically have been very good at designing products which are relatively easy to put together.”
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