Ford's reliability stumbles in Consumer Reports' survey, Jeep rises
Photo credit: Ford
DETROIT -- Ford brand, in recent years a paragon of the Detroit 3's improved reliability, stumbled in this year's Consumer Reports magazine's reliability survey, while Jeep took the top ranking among domestic brands.
Ford's drop from 10th in the survey to 20th in 2011 was caused by two factors: teething problems with new and redesigned models -- the Explorer, Fiesta and Focus -- and problems with new technologies, the MyFord Touch infotainment system and an automated manual transmission on the Fiesta and Focus.
David Champion, senior director of the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center, said in an interview: "It can't be good for Ford. It takes a long time to build a reputation for reliable vehicles. But it takes only a year or two to lose that."
Wes Sherwood, a spokesman for Ford, said today that the MyFordTouch system is "pioneering technology for the industry" and that Ford's PowerShift transmission is among the the "most advanced fuel-saving technologies" that allows automatic transmissions to get better fuel economy than manual transmissions.
"Where there are issues, we are addressing them," he said.
Champion says Ford's results show that carmakers still face a challenge in getting new models right in their first year.
"We have often found that new or revamped models have more problems in their first year than in subsequent model years," he says. "Ford's problems illustrate why we recommend to our subscribers to hold off buying a first-year model."
The Consumer Reports reliability study is based on responses on 1.3 million vehicles owned or leased by the magazine's print and Web site subscribers. The survey was conducted in the spring of 2011 by Consumer Reports' National Survey Research Center and covered the 2002-11 model years. The data are used to predict reliability of 2012 models.
The survey ranked 28 brands.
Chrysler brands improve
Jeep moved up seven spots to 13th to become the most reliable domestic brand and Chrysler brand moved up 12 spots in the rankings, although its ranking was based on just two models: the 200 sedan and Town & Country minivan.
The redesigned Chrysler 300 sedan was too new for sufficient survey data. The 200, known as the Sebring before a 2011 redesign, finished well above average, but the Town & Country was subpar.
Dodge brand also moved up three places in the rankings to 21st.
Champion said Chrysler Group's improvement shows the company has demonstrated a "new determination on reliability." Time will tell if the company can keep it up, he said.
"In the past, Consumer Reports has been critical of our older products," Doug Betts, Chrysler's senior vice president of quality, said in a statement. "Having Jeep named the highest ranking domestic brand for reliability comes after many long days and a lot of work in the past three years by our team, as Chrysler Group consistently outpaced the industry's average rate of improvement for reliability."
Japanese brands still dominated, taking the first nine spots. Volvo cracked the top 10 at 10th, the best among European makes. Jeep, Lincoln and Chrysler were the top three domestic brands at 13th, 14th and 15th.
GM drops back
General Motors also stumbled in the survey, particularly the Buick and Cadillac brands, which each dropped six spots to 24th and 25th.
The Buick LaCrosse, the all-wheel-drive version of the Buick Enclave, and the Cadillac SRX all fell below average this year after being deemed reliable a year ago, the magazine said.The Chevrolet Volt hybrid ranked as GM's most reliable car, though the sample size was barely more than the magazine's minimum of 100 cars.
Despite improvement, domestic models still have reliability issues: Of 97 domestic models and versions for which the magazine had data, 62 of them (64 percent) rated average or better compared with 96 percent for Japanese brands.
Toyota Motor Corp.'s Scion brand topped the ranking, followed by Lexus and Acura. Mazda scored the biggest improvement among Japanese makes, jumping eight spots from last year to fourth overall.
Of the top 91 Japanese models in the survey, 87 were ranked above average or 96 percent.
Hyundai and Kia ranked 11th and 12th, respectively. Hyundai and Kia each had just one below-par entry: the V-6 Hyundai Santa Fe crossover and its sibling, the V-6 Kia Sorento.
European vehicles finished just below the U.S. domestic brands. Of 58 models tested, 37 (64 percent) scored average or better.
Though Volvo dropped two places from its 2010 ranking, it got a boost from the redesigned S60 sedan. Volkswagen held on to 16th place. Mercedes-Benz and BMW both rose four places in the rankings to 18th and 19th place, respectively.
But the magazine said the results varied from model to model for the German luxury makers. BMW's redesigned X3 fared well, while the redesigned 5 series sedan scored well below average. Mercedes got a boost from its GLK compact SUV, while its flagship S class scored below average.
Porsche showed the biggest drop of any carmaker in the survey, dropping 25 places from second best to 27th, or second worst. The magazine had test data on only two models. One of those, the redesigned Cayenne SUV, had a "terrible year."
AUTOMAKER RESPONSES TO CONSUMER REPORTS' 2011 SURVEY RESULTS
FORD MOTOR CO.:
"We are pleased that a number of Ford vehicles -- including the Ford Fusion -- earned top quality ratings this week. As we said when J.D. Power issued similar results last summer, we take all customer feedback seriously and will use it to continuously improbe our vehicles. Continuous improvement ensures that we are providing our customers with the highest-quality vehicles. Our internal surveys now show that we are largely back on track after addressing these near-term quality issues. We remain absolutely committed to serving our customers with cars and trucks that have the highest quality, reliability, fuel efficiency, safety, smart design and value."
CHRYSLER GROUP LLC:
Consumer Reports announced their findings of their closely watched Annual Auto Survey, stating that the Jeep®, Chrysler and Dodge brands all improved in the industry rankings and that the Jeep brand moved up seven spots to become the "most reliable domestic brand."
"In the past, Consumer Reports has been critical of our older products," said Doug Betts, Senior Vice President – Quality, Chrysler Group LLC. "We are pleased to see the strong movement of our brands in this important survey. Having Jeep named the highest ranking domestic brand for reliability comes after many long days and a lot of work in the past three years by our team, as Chrysler Group consistently outpaced the industry's average rate of improvement for reliability."
While the Jeep brand is now the highest ranking domestic brand in Consumer Reports' reliability rankings, the Chrysler brand made the biggest leap in the industry, moving up 12 positions. Chrysler's results were driven by the strong reliability of the new Chrysler 200. The Chrysler 300 recently received an "excellent" road test score from Consumer Reports, but the magazine did not collect enough subscriber surveys due to the timing of the 300's market launch for it to be included in this year's reliability report. Although the 2011 Town & Country was the highest ranked minivan in the J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Survey, it did not fare as well among Consumer Reports subscribers and Chrysler Group plans to follow up with Consumer Reports to better understand their survey results.
Consumer Reports noted that some automakers struggled with reliability for new model launches, while "Chrysler (Group) had better results with its new models," including the Dodge Durango, Chrysler 200 and Jeep Grand Cherokee.
"Even though we launched 16 new or significantly updated vehicles for the 2011 model year, our reliability improved for all brands," Betts said. "Our new team has devoted significant resources to interior refinement, improved performance, world-class fit-and-finish and more rigorous reliability testing. For example, we've increased the reliability testing miles by 50 percent for all our products."
The Dodge brand (which includes Ram Truck results) moved up three positions in the industry rankings. The 2012 Fiat 500 did not have sufficient survey sample size to be included in this year's report.
You can reach Bradford Wernle at email@example.com.