Porsche, Honda, Malibu and Ford Star in JDP IQS

Ford has been saying for weeks that it’s quality (as measured in first three months of ownership) is at a virtual tie with Toyota. That was based on the findings of TRDA Group, a Michigan-based research firm that measures quality, but does not carry the heft in the market of J.D. Power & Associates.

JDP, like BusinessWeek, is owned by McGraw Hill.

But when J.D. Power & Associates released its benchmark Initial Quality Study today, Ford did very well. The Ford brand still lags Toyota by a few points. But when you consider that Toyota posted 104 things-gone-wrong per 100 vehicles, and Ford scored 112, it is darn close. Remember, those are not problems per car, but problems per 100 cars. So, out of 100 cars, seven got dinged by owners for one more problem that Toyota.

What’s pretty impressive is that Ford brand has been on upward steady climb since 2004 with no backslides that have come from launching new products. Remember back in the early 2000s, when it seemed like Ford was recalling the Focus every five minutes? In contrast, the Ford Fusion, which scored third best in its category of mid-sized sedans, hasn’t had any recalls in two years. Not bad. Though it is definitely worth noting that the Fusion trailed category leader Chevy Malibu, and no. 2….Mitsubishi Galant?

No Camry or Accord in the top-three.

Mazda jumped 36 points in the study! Ford manages thee Mazda brand though its controlling ownership.

What’s happening here? Some say that GM and Ford have been winning points and closing the gap between their brands and Toyota and Honda because buyers of Detroit product are older and less discerning than buyers of Hondas and Toyotas. I think there is something to that, as brands like Buick and Lincoln have scored awfully well in past years when the products were pretty mediocre. But it is also true that Ford and GM in particular have been driving on quality relentlessly for a decade. This has extended not only to build quality, but also to the selection and design of interior materials and layout.

These people at Ford and GM (Chrysler, I would say is focused, too, but has been distracted by its changes of ownership and financial condition), aren’t taking any crap when it comes to making the vehicles right. Whereas back in the 1990s, I would see lots of corners cut and quality rankings dismissed as superficial, I have run into engineers and managers for the last decade in this town who are hyper focused in a religious way, on eliminating glitches and finding ways to please and surprise people. That’s what led to the Malibu topping this list. It’s a brilliant package with no real short-comings.

But enough of Detroit. Let’s salute a few brands:

No. 1 Porsche: We have come to expect Porsche to be at the top or near the top. With so few models and such low volume, they had better get the quality right.

No. 2 Infiniti: Continues to do a good job, but this is a brand that doesn’t seem to get traction on enough radar screens.

No. 3 Lexus: The benchmark for high volume luxe cars.

No. 4: Mercedes-Benz: Wow. Talk about getting your act together. I recall writing a few years ago about how MB was robbing its customers with cruddy quality scores. Goes to show you what focus will do for a company.

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