The Ford and Mercury brands each jumped two spots, and both cracked the top eight. Eleven of Ford Motor’s 14 nameplates included in the study showed improvement, with the Ford Escape crossover and Fusion sedan among its leaders.
A slip by the Lincoln brand dinged Ford’s otherwise positive results, which are closely watched by consumers. Lincoln fell from No. 3 to No. 15, the last brand ranked above the industry average.
Quality is a crucial part of Ford Motor’s effort to rebuild its auto sales and image. The J.D. Power results -- except for the stumble at Lincoln -- will probably show up in Ford’s advertising.
The study tallies problems reported by owners of new vehicles 90 days after purchase. It is reported in problems per 100 vehicles. The survey includes design complaints as well as manufacturing defects. A design complaint could be a button or a switch on the instrument panel that is difficult to reach and use or an uncomfortable seat.
The survey findings were unveiled Wednesday at an Automotive Press Association luncheon here. According to the study, 86 percent of overall improvement this year resulted from fewer defects.
Mike Hardie, global manager of quality data at Ford, said navigation and voice command issues were to blame for Lincoln’s falter.
“We’re taking a look right now to resolve those issues to mitigate those for customers in the future,” Hardie told reporters.
Poor showing for Mini, Porsche tops again
Small-car specialist Mini ranked next to last at No. 35, ahead only of Jeep. Mini wasn’t included in the study last year because of a small sample size and was well below the industry average in 2006.
Infiniti vaulted from No. 9 to No. 2 behind only Porsche, which topped the overall brand ratings for the third straight year.
Audi was one of the biggest movers in ranking and problems per 100 vehicles, leaping into the top 10 this year from near the bottom fourth in last year’s rankings. At 113 defects per 100 vehicles, it shed 23 defects from a year ago.
Cadillac tied Audi in defects at 113 and nearly mirrored its fellow luxury brand in its rally up the rankings, climbing to No. 10 from No. 25 last year.
GM makes progress
The new version of the Chevrolet Malibu sedan was the fourth-best vehicle in the industry in problems per 100 vehicles. And it collected the top award in the mid-sized car segment -- a feat for a car that is new from the wheels up.
“When the customer spoke here, it validated that we are doing all right,” Jamie Hresko, GM’s top quality executive told Automotive News.
“I think one of the big keys was that our launches are helping us, not hurting us,” he added. “I’m not sure it’s a grand slam, but we did very well.”
GM failed to crack the top 10 with any of its brands, though four GM brands – Cadillac, Buick, Chevrolet and Pontiac -- rose from below average last year to above average in the 2008 study. GM was shut out from any brands reaching that status last year.
Hresko said GM won’t be satisfied until it meets this goal: The other half of GM’s brands -- GMC, Saturn, Hummer and Saab -- need to beat the industry average.
Chrysler comes up empty
The study held more bad news for Chrysler LLC, which was far below the industry average with its three brands.
Jeep was the industry’s worst at 167 problems per 100 vehicles. Dodge and Chrysler placed 28th and 29th, or in the bottom fourth of all brands in the rankings.
“Chrysler is going to take this study extremely seriously,” David Sargent, vice president of automotive research for J.D. Power and Associates, told reporters.
“This is a long-term process. Manufacturers can’t just wake up one morning and go back to work and decide to build a better car.”
Chrysler fared best in pickup trucks and SUVs. The Dodge Dakota pickup and Durango SUV each earned the top award in their segments.
Kia down, Mazda, Hummer up
Nearly three-fourths of the 36 ranked brands fared better in problems per 100 vehicles, and the industry average improved to 118 problems per 100 vehicles, down from 125 in 2007.
The Kia brand, which placed just above the industry average last year, fell below that threshold in the rankings this year. Kia’s fall came despite nine fewer defects per 100 vehicles this year.
Mazda and Hummer, two of the bottom three in the 2007 study, improved this year: Mazda climbed 11 spots, while Hummer moved up eight.
The Saturn brand went the other way, falling to No. 33 from its No. 20 ranking a year ago.
Honda leads in awards by segment
Honda secured three segment awards with the Civic and Fit cars and CR-V crossover, which was more than any other nameplate in the 2008 study.
Collecting two segment awards each were Chevrolet (Malibu sedan and Silverado LD pickup); Dodge (Dakota pickup and Durango SUV); Infiniti (EX crossover and M sedan); Lexus (LS car and RX crossover); and Mercedes-Benz (CLK-class and E-class car).