General Motors moved into the third-place spot on J.D. Power and Associates' Initial Quality Survey, marking the first time a U.S. company has earned a top-three ranking among automakers with multiple brands.
Toyota Motor Corp. kept its first-place spot, while Honda Motor Co. placed second. Nissan Motor Co. slipped from third place in 2001 to sixth place this year, but in the ironic world of quality statistics, the automaker's recent U.S. success contributed to the fall.
The J.D. Power study, released Thursday, is based on data gathered from about 65,000 new 2002 model car and truck buyers and lessees who evaluated their vehicles after 90 days of ownership.
The Westlake Village, Calif., research firm uses the data to annually rank automakers, their vehicles and their plants based on quality.
GM had 130 problems per 100 vehicles, the study showed. That's an 11 percent improvement over last year, when it had 146 problems per 100 vehicles.
The Big 3 automaker said the improvement is largely due to an initiative, started in 1999, aimed at improving the quality of a vehicle from the design stage to final assembly. GM said it needs to push further with these efforts.
"All the competition continues to improve, which means we have to double our efforts to improve quality," said Gary Cowger, president of GM North America. "If we want to increase market share and net income, we need to make sure we are delivering quality products."
GM also had the top three vehicle assembly plants in North and South America, the study said.
NEW MODELS MEAN MORE WORK
This year, 22 of GM's plants are launching new or revised models. That compares with eight plants that were in that position last year.
Historically, it's unusual for an all-new model to top its segment in initial quality, J.D. Power said.
"Redesigning a vehicle, or coming out with a brand-new vehicle, challenges most every manufacturer," said Brian Walters, director of product research at J.D. Power. "And given that, GM and every manufacturer that's coming out with a great deal of new product will have to work doubly hard to improve quality."
A redesigned model is likely to drop 2 percent in its quality ranking compared to its predecessor, Walters said. In the second year, that model typically improves in quality by 17 percent, he said.
Nissan, which dropped to sixth place from third place, launched a complete redesign of its Altima in the 2002 model year. It also was the only automaker of the top seven to show lower results this year. Its problems increased to 152 per 100 vehicles from 145.
"We're not happy with that," said Jed Connelly, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Nissan North America Inc. "There are certain things we noticed (on the Altima) wind noise issues, radio static, some interior noise. Those things are factored into the score and cost us some points."
Connelly said the automaker already has remedied some of the first-year glitches, and is working on the rest.
J.D. Power manufacturers' ratings also give extra weight to higher-selling vehicles. The popular Altima, launched in October 2001, accounts for up to 30 percent of Nissan North America sales.
Most automakers improved their quality in this year's study.
Toyota had 107 problems per 100 vehicles, down from 115. The quality leader shined in the truck segment, topping six of seven categories, including mid-size sport-utilities and full-size pickups. Out of 16 car and truck segments, Toyota and its luxury division Lexus led in the quality rankings in nine.
Second-place Honda improved to 113 problems per 100 vehicles, down from 133 last year.
DaimlerChrysler moved up a notch, sliding into the fourth-place spot with 141 problems.
"This is a strong indication of our efforts to focus on initial quality as we launch some very important new products, but we are also very focused on other measurements, including long-term ownership, durability and residual values," said Donald Dees, vice president of quality for the Chrysler Group.
Ford went up to fifth place from seventh place in 2001. Its problems per 100 vehicles fell to 143 from 162. Ford's rating includes Premier Automotive Group brands. Ford said Volvo was the most improved brand in the survey. It jumped to No. 5 among all brands. The study placed Toyota's Lexus brand in the top spot. Honda's Acura brand and Nissan's Infiniti brand tied for second place.
Ford's Expedition led the full-size SUV segment. The Thunderbird ranked highest in the entry luxury car segment.
Volkswagen, which tied with Nissan for sixth place, had 152 problems, an improvement from 159 a year ago. Volkswagen's rating includes the Audi brand.
Overall, the industry averaged 133 problems per 100 vehicles.
|Top three car models in their segment|
|Compact Car||1. Toyota Corolla, Toyota Prius (TIE)|
2. Chevolet Prizm
|Entry Midsize Car||1. Chevrolet Malibu|
2. Oldsmobile Alero
3. Pontiac Grand Am
|Premium Midsize Car||1. Buick Century|
2. Chevrolet Monte Carlo
3. Honda Accord (total)
|Full-Size Car||1. Buick LaSabre|
2. Ford Crown Victoria
3. Mercury Grand Marquis, Pontiac Bonneville (TIE)
|Entry Luxury Car||1. Ford Thunderbird|
2. Acura TL, Lexus ES 300 (TIE)
|Mid Luxury Car||1. Lexus GS 300/GS 430|
2. Volvo S80
3. Lincoln Town Car
|Premium Luxury Car||1. Lexus LS 430|
2. Lexus SC 430
3. Mercedes-Benz S-Class
|Sporty Car||1. Mazda Miata|
2. Toyota MR2 Spyder
3. Toyota Celica
|Premium Sports Car||1. Chevrolet Corvette|
2. Porsche 911
3. Honda S2000
|Top three truck models in their segment|
|Compact Pickup||1. Toyota Tacoma|
2. Chevrolet S-10 Pickup, Ford Ranger (TIE)
|Full-Size Pickup||1. Toyota Tundra|
2. Chevrolet Silverado LD
3. Ford F-Series LD (total)
|Entry Sport Utility Vehicle||1. Toyota RAV-4|
2. Honda CR-V
3. Hyundai Santa Fe, Subaru Forester (TIE)
|Midsize Sport Utility Vehicle||1. Toyota Highlander|
2. Nissan Pathfinder
3. Toyota 4Runner
|Full-Size Sport Utility Vehicle||1. Ford Expedition|
2. Chevrolet Tahoe
3. Toyota Sequoia
|Luxury Sport Utility Vehicle||1. Lexus LX 470|
2. Lexus RX 300
3. Infiniti QX4
|Compact Van||1. Toyota Sienna|
2. Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan, Mercury Villager (TIE)
|2002 Assembly Plant Award Recipients|
|Platinum Plant Quality Award, Worldwide||Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc.-Tahara, Japan (CAR)|
|Gold Plant Quality Award, European||BMW of North America-Rosslyn, South Africa|
|Gold Plant Quality Award, North America||General Motors Corporation-Oshawa #2|
|Silver Plant Quality Award, Asia||Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc.-Araco, Japan (Truck)|
|Silver Plant Quality Award, Europe||BMW of North America-Munich, Germany|
|Silver Plant Quality Award, North America||General Motors Corporation-Bowling Green, KY|
|Bronze Plant Quality Award, Asia||Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc.-Kyushu, Japan|
|Bronze Plant Quality Award, Europe||DaimlerChrysler-Sindelfingen, Germany|
|Bronze Plant Quality Award, North America||NUMMI New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (Tie)|
|Bronze Plant Quality Award, North America||General Motors Corporation-Lansing, MI (Tie)|