LOS ANGELES - Although Japanese and European marques once again dominated the top ranks of the J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study, the gap with the domestic automakers continues to shrink.
Across the board, most automakers showed strides in quality and process improvement, said Brian Walters, Power study director. In 1998, 258 problems per 100 vehicles separated the best vehicle from the worst, he said. This year, the gap is down to 177.
The industry as a whole improved by 10 percent, its greatest increase since 1997. The industry average fell 14 points to 133 defects per 100 vehicles from 147 in 2001.
"The days are all but over of catastrophic engine failures within the first months of ownership," Walters said. "But seemingly minor problems do add up to a significant issue. Consumers expect a $25,000 car to be trouble-free."
Toyota, Honda still lead
The study, which surveys owners for problems encountered in the first 90 days of ownership of 2002 model year vehicles, showed that Toyota and Lexus vehicles dominated nearly every category they entered, especially in trucks. Indeed, Toyota and Lexus won six out of the seven light-truck categories.
General Motors also showed a strong surge in vehicle build quality, snaring several awards.
"GM taking home an award for Buick Century finishing above Toyota Camry and Honda Accord is a significant achievement, and we're seeing that repeated in other areas, like Ford Thunderbird defeating Lexus and Acura," Walters said.
He cautioned against placing too much emphasis on overall manufacturer rankings, as the scores are sales-weighted. For example, teething problems with the launch of the high-volume Altima dragged down Nissan's overall score, even though Infiniti Division finished tied for second as a marque.
Nissan fell to ninth overall and seventh among multiline makers, tied with Volkswagen at 152 defects per 100.
"Clearly we are disappointed with the results," said Nissan spokesman Scott Vazin.
"We will investigate the causes, roll up our sleeves and improve next year. But you also have to note that this is a 90-day study, and we look at quality as a whole, over the long term, and in that aspect we do quite well."
Conversely, Ford Division's overall score was below average, even though the Expedition and Thunderbird both topped their respective vehicle categories.
Consistency pays for GM
But consistent build quality across the product lines assured GM of finishing fifth overall, and fourth among multiline automakers behind Toyota, Honda and BMW. GM's plants in Oshawa, Ontario; Bowling Green, Ky.; and Lansing, Mich., have all improved at double the industry rate since 1998, Walters said.
A main reason for this improvement was GM's decision in 1999 to converge its divisions' manufacturing processes into one manufacturing group and one engineering group and to consolidate the support groups, said GM North America President Gary Cowger, who recently explained GM's quality improvement process.
Other notable points from the study:
Staff Reporter Rick Kranz in Detroit contributed to this report
|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)|