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Ford Quality Tumbles as Japanese Win Consumer Reports Study

Ford Quality Tumbles as Japanese Dominate Consumer Reports
A customer reads a Ford Motor Co. F-150 pick-up truck brochure at the Capital Ford dealership in Raleigh, North Carolina. Photographer: Jim R. Bounds/Bloomberg

Ford Motor Co.’s reliability ranking in the Consumer Reports annual auto survey tumbled as its namesake brand slid to 20th from 10th last year among 28 brands while Japanese automakers captured nine of the top 10 spots.

Ford’s ranking suffered because the new Explorer SUV, Focus compact and Fiesta subcompact all scored below average for reliability, the Yonkers, New York-based publication said in a statement. Buyers reported problems with dashboard touch-screens used to control entertainment functions in some Ford vehicles. Chrysler Group LLC’s three rated brands all improved.

Ford and General Motors Co. have shown profit and market-share gains, built in part on the perception of improved quality. Today’s results may damage that reputation, said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports’ Automotive Test Center.

“Ford took a big drop with their new cars,” Champion said in a telephone interview before the study was released. “They have been on a roll over the past five years. They need to get a handle on some of their new technologies.”

This year’s results are similar to last year’s when Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. tied with the most models with top scores, and Ford was the only U.S. automaker receiving top marks. Toyota’s youth-oriented Scion brand was No. 1, Lexus placed second and the Toyota brand ranked sixth. Honda’s luxury marque Acura ranked third, while its namesake brand finished fifth. Mazda Motor Corp.’s Mazda was fourth.

Consumer Reports surveyed 5 million of its subscribers and received feedback on 1.3 million vehicles for the study.

Chrysler’s Gains

Fiat SpA-controlled Chrysler made improvements. Its Jeep brand placed 13th and was the highest-ranking U.S. brand. The Chrysler brand moved up 12 spots to 15th and Dodge ranked 21st.

Chrysler’s newest models were ranked average or above average for reliability, Champion said. That bodes well for future model years because automakers typically make improvements after a new model goes on sale, he said.

“This is good news for Chrysler,” Champion said. “It shows that they are starting with a good basis for improvement.”

For Ford, the chief complaints were related to the company’s MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch audio, entertainment and navigation systems and a new fuel-saving transmission, Champion said. Malfunctioning touch screens had led to a plunge in Ford’s ranking in J.D. Power & Associates study of new-car quality earlier this year.

The Consumer Reports survey is “a lagging indicator,” Wes Sherwood, a Ford spokesman, said in an interview. “We’ve been working through these issues and we’re seeing improvement.”

GM’s Volt

In the Consumer Reports study results released today, GM’s top-selling Chevrolet brand held its ranking at 17th. Buick and Cadillac each fell six places to 24th and 25th, respectively. GMC finished 22nd.

The Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid was GM’s most reliable car in the survey, Champion said. This is the first year the Volt was reviewed by Consumers Reports.

Toyota, which was plagued by recalls of millions of U.S. autos in 2009 and 2010 related to unintended acceleration claims, had good results in the Consumer Reports survey, Champion said.

The top 10 included Nissan Motor Co.’s Infiniti brand in seventh, Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.’s Subaru eighth and the Nissan brand ninth. Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co.’s Volvo ranked 10th. The namesake brands of Hyundai Motor Co. and its affiliate Kia Motors Corp. were 11th and 12th.

Chrysler Improves

Other than Volvo, all European brands finished in the bottom half of the survey.

Volkswagen AG’s namesake brand placed 16th while its Audi luxury brand finished 26th. Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz ranked 18th. Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s BMW was 19th and its Mini brand came in at No. 23. Porsche SE’s Porsche plunged from second last year to 27th and Tata Motors Ltd.’s Jaguar was last.

“The Europeans have been doing poorly for the last four or five years,” Champion said at a press briefing in Detroit. “The Europeans have a different sense of the market. In the U.S., cars are more like appliances and people expect to turn it on and everything should work. In Europe, cars are more an extension of your personality.”

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