Detroit inches closer

Here’s a sadly familiar story line coming out of Detroit today. The Big Three are narrowing the gap, but still lag key rivals Toyota and Honda. We see that in quality surveys, productivity studies or customer satisfaction indices all the time. Witness the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index put out by the University of Michigan.

The good news for Detroit is that its brands are getting closer to the best of the Japanese. But as Professor Claes Fornell, who heads the study, said, “American automakers are narrowing the gap with Asian manufacturers, but they’re still coming in last.”

Toyota’s top-shelf Lexus brand finished first with a score of 87, narrowly beating Cadillac, Buick and Lincoln-Mercury, each with a score of 86. Honda and Toyota brands actually slipped this year, proving that their brands aren’t infallible. But they still lead American mass market brands Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge.

There’s the problem. Given the hyper competition in the car business and finicky nature of car buyers, Detroit brands need to start winning in surveys like this one, as well as J.D. Power & associates studies and recommendations from Consumer Reports. And they must win consistently. Only then will loyal import owners seriously think about trading for Detroit metal.

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