DETROIT -- Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. on Tuesday topped a benchmark U.S. survey on vehicle quality for the fifth straight year, but many other automakers gained ground on the leading Japanese car company.
Toyota had 115 consumer-reported problems per 100 vehicles in the annual J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Survey, up from a record-low 107 problems last year. Four of the top five automakers in the study, a poll of more than 52,000 buyers and lessees of 2003 model year vehicles during the first 90 days of ownership, had more problems this year.
Meanwhile, most other automakers posted better results as the difference between the best and worst scores narrowed.
"The quality has improved so dramatically, particularly for the Koreans, that they are becoming very competitive players in the market," Brian Walters, director of product research with J.D. Power, told Reuters. "The longer they are here, the better they are able to understand the U.S. consumer."
Overall, the industry had 133 problems per 100 vehicles, the same as last year. Top complaints in the annual study include wind noise, chipped paint and loud brakes.
Porsche was the only one of the top five automakers to improve its score, moving up to second place with 117 problems, down from 122 problems last year.
BMW, Honda Motor Co. and General Motors remained near the top of the rankings behind Toyota, but they also had more problems this year.
Walters said Honda and GM had some problems with the launch of some new vehicles. GM's Hummer brand had the worst score of all automotive brands with 225 problems per 100 vehicles, due to many complaints about the high fuel consumption. That compares with Lexus, which had the best score with 76 problems per 100 vehicles.
Because Hummer H2 is too heavy to be subject to federal mileage regulations, the popular SUV does not have its fuel rating posted on the window sales sticker like most other vehicles do.
U.S. and European automakers narrowed the gap with Japanese automakers, and have only nine more problems per 100 vehicles, down from 19 problems five years ago, J.D. Power said. The Koreans still rank the lowest, but have improved their scores substantially, narrowing the gap with the Japanese to 26 problems from 116 problems five years ago.
Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. moved up to sixth place with 135 problems, down from 152 last year when its new Altima mid-sized sedan was launched.
American Suzuki Motor Corp. had the biggest improvement, 66 fewer problems per 100 vehicles for a score of 144, while Korea's Kia Motors America had 44 fewer problems for a total of 168 this year.
Top-ranking automakers often tout the results of the study in advertisements, while others go back and make revisions to their cars and trucks to try to garner a better score and improve customer satisfaction.
Out of 16 car and truck segments, Toyota and its luxury division Lexus led in the quality rankings in six categories, while Ford and its Mazda unit took top spot in five, followed by GM with three and Honda and DaimlerChrysler with one.
J.D. Power said consumers may may want to reconsider the maxim "never buy a new car in its first year." An analysis showed that many new models or vehicles which had major redesigns scored higher initial quality marks than the model they replaced.