DETROIT -- Detroit's automakers -- helped by Ford Motor Co. and some of the smoothest new-model launches ever -- have surpassed Asian and European rivals in initial vehicle quality for the first time, based on a closely watched survey released today.
For the 2010 model year, General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group averaged 108 problems per 100 vehicles, compared with 109 problems for every 100 Asian and European vehicles, J.D. Power and Associates announced at an Automotive Press Association luncheon here today.
Models such as the Ford Focus, Ford Fusion, Ram pickup and Buick Enclave helped drive Detroit's gains for 2010, the market research firm said.
Dragged down by Toyota Motor Corp., the overall quality of new cars and trucks sold in the United States slipped slightly this year -- the first time since 2007, according to the study.
Among segments, J.D. Power said domestic brands lead rivals in cars and pickups, while foreign brands lead in crossovers, SUVs and vans. This is the 24th year of the study.
Ford -- with 12 models ranked among the top three in their respective segments -- was largely responsible for Detroit's showing in the latest survey. The Ford brand, with less than one problem per new model, jumped from eighth place in 2009 to fifth this year -- its best showing ever. Ford is the highest-ranked nonluxury brand in the survey as well.
Overall, GM's initial quality slipped, with all four brands below the industry average, though the automaker had 10 models ranked in the top three of their respective segments. Buick, with 114 problems per 100 models, was the only GM brand to improve in the survey. J.D. Power said GM was hurt by the launch of several new models such as the Cadillac SRX, Buick LaCrosse, and Chevrolet Equinox and Camaro.
Chrysler's four brands all improved but still fell below the industry average, although the new Ram truck brand scored just below the industry average.
Overall for 2010, new-vehicle quality slipped industrywide to 109 problems per 100 models from 108 in 2009. The results are based on a J.D. Power survey of 82,000 new-vehicle buyers after 90 days of ownership.
A big reason for the slight drop in industry quality was Toyota Motor Corp.'s Toyota brand, which slipped below the industry average for the first time, to 21st place, with 117 problems reported per 100 models.
The publicity surrounding sudden acceleration in several Toyota models was top-of-mind for many new owners of the brand's vehicles, J.D. Power said.
“Clearly, Toyota has endured a difficult year,” said Dave Sargent, vice president of global vehicle research at J.D. Power.
Overall, Japanese brands averaged 108 problems per 100 models surveyed, a tie with U.S. domestic brands. South Korean brands averaged 111 problems and Europeans 114 problems.
BMW's Mini was the most improved brand, and the Ford Explorer Sport Trac was the most improved model. Overall, 18 brands improved and 15 brands declined in the survey.
For Detroit automakers, the results contrast sharply with a year ago, when the bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler underscored longtime consumer perceptions about the quality of domestic brands.
“This year may mark a key turning point for U.S. brands as they continue to fight the battle against lingering negative perceptions of their quality,” said Sargent. “Achieving quality comparability is the first half of the battle. Convincing consumers -- particularly import buyers -- that they have done this is the second half.”
The quality of new or revamped models continued to improve in 2010, led by product launches from Ford, Honda, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. In the past, new models, on average, experienced substantially more quality problems than carryover models.
But in its latest survey, J.D. Power said more than a half of all models launched during the 2010 model year performed better than their respective segment averages.
At the same time, the initial quality of carryover and refreshed models fell in 2010.
At the top
Porsche AG, which launched the four-door Panamera, was the top-ranked brand, with 83 problems per 100 models surveyed. It was followed by Acura, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and Ford. Honda, Hyundai, Lincoln, Infiniti and Volvo also finished above the industry average.
Last year, Lexus topped the survey with 84 problems per 100 models. Porsche and Lexus have led the survey for the past six years.
At the bottom of the survey, with 170 problems per 100 models, was Land Rover. Mitsubishi, Volkswagen, Mini, Jaguar and Dodge also placed near the bottom.
Sargent said the industry has nailed “the oily parts” of the car and truck, with engine, transmission and chassis problems all but extinct. But new technologies such as Bluetooth, navigation and cameras continue to stymie automakers and consumers.
“The industry is still struggling to seamlessly integrate these features in a way that does not frustrate consumers,” Sargent said. “It can be anything from a voice recognition system that fails to recognize commands or a bad sensor that monitors tire pressure.”