Toyota is tops, Ford drops in reliability ratings
Ford's Czubay: Tech leadership is worth the risk.
DETROIT -- Toyota Motor Corp. is back on top, followed by a wave of Japanese brands, in reliability ratings by Consumer Reports magazine. And Ford Motor Co. tumbled in the rankings.
Scion, Toyota and Lexus swept the top three spots, while Lincoln finished 26th and Ford finished 27th. Only Jaguar did worse.
General Motors' Cadillac was the top domestic brand, at No. 11, while German luxury carmakers, particularly Audi, moved up the survey, which predicts the reliability of 2013 nameplates based on the magazine's subscribers' satisfaction with the reliability of their current vehicles.
Perhaps the most dramatic change, though, was Ford's belly-flop in the rankings.
Just two years ago, the magazine pointed out in a release, "Ford was Detroit's poster child for reliability. It cracked the top 10 among brands in Consumer Reports predicted-reliability scores with more than 90 percent of its models being average or better."
But last year Ford and Lincoln slid because of problems with the MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch controls and a new transmission.
This year's survey was taken in the midst of an effort by Ford to fix its MyFord Touch problems, and it's unclear how successful those efforts were in appeasing consumers.
But other problems emerged for Ford as well. Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports quality testing chief, noted that several of its most important models, including the Ford Escape and Fusion and Lincoln MKZ, were redesigned for 2013.
Ford's high-water mark in the ranking came when such vehicles as the previous-generation Fusion and Escape were mature products with the bugs sorted out, said Fisher. But the redesigns meant that the previously reliable versions of these vehicles no longer count when predicting the reliability of the current models.
And Ford has stumbled with some of those recent launches, raising doubts about those vehicles' reliability.
Fisher also said the results highlight the different ways Toyota and Ford approach the introduction of new designs and technology into their models.
"Toyota is generally pretty conservative when they redesign their vehicles," Fisher told Automotive News. "The Prius C is a new model. It's the most reliable vehicle in our survey this year. But, really, how new is it? It's got a platform similar to the Toyota Yaris, which has been in production for years. It's got a powertrain that's almost a carbon copy of the 2004 Prius. That conservative approach to redesigning really is what helps them make reliable cars."
Ford takes a much different approach, he said.
"When they come out with a new Focus or a new Escape, it's a clean sheet of paper: new powertrain, new engine, new transmission, new body in white, new everything," he said. "You look at MyFord Touch system. They're committed to that and they're putting it across the board in all their vehicles. That is a much less conservative approach."
Ford officials say the Consumer Reports data
confirm what the company's internal surveys have shown.
"We know we have areas to address, and we have been working on them, and we have been making progress," said Ford spokesman Mark Schirmer. He said Ford's internal data "show that we are improving in these areas, and we expect that will be reflected in next year's Consumer Reports survey."
But the company remains committed to its early adopter strategy.
Said Ken Czubay, Ford's vice president of North America marketing, sales and service: "It's an acceptable risk to take to be the leading player in technology. It's rarely perfect the first time out. A significant number of consumers came to Ford because we are a leader in technology."
Mark Rechtin contributed to this report
You can reach Bradford Wernle at email@example.com.