The Ford brand, in recent years a paragon of the Detroit 3's improved reliability, stumbled in this year's Consumer Reports magazine's 2011 reliability survey, while Jeep took the top ranking among domestic brands.
Ford's drop from 10th in the survey to 20th this year was caused by two factors: teething problems with new and redesigned models -- the Explorer, Fiesta and Focus -- and problems with new technologies, the MyFord Touch infotainment system and an automated manual transmission on the Fiesta and Focus.
David Champion, senior director of the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center, said in an interview: "It can't be good for Ford. It takes a long time to build a reputation for reliable vehicles. But it takes only a year or two to lose that."
The Consumer Reports reliability study is based on responses on 1.3 million vehicles owned or leased by the magazine's print and Web site subscribers. The survey was conducted in the spring of 2011 by Consumer Reports' National Survey Research Center and covered the 2002-11 model years. The data are used to predict reliability of 2012 models.
The survey ranked 28 brands.
Jeep moved up seven spots to 13th to become the most reliable domestic brand, and the Chrysler brand moved up 12 spots in the rankings, although its ranking was based on just two models: the 200 sedan and Town & Country minivan.
The redesigned Chrysler 300 sedan was too new for sufficient survey data. The 200, known as the Sebring before a 2011 redesign, finished well above average, but the Town & Country was subpar.
Dodge moved up three places in the rankings to 21st.
Champion said Chrysler Group's improvement shows the company has demonstrated a "new determination on reliability." Time will tell whether the company can keep it up, he said.
Japanese brands still dominated, taking the first nine spots. Volvo was 10th, the best among European makes. Jeep, Lincoln and Chrysler were the top three domestic brands at 13th, 14th and 15th.
General Motors also stumbled in the survey, particularly Buick and Cadillac, which each dropped six spots to 24th and 25th, respectively. The Buick LaCrosse, Buick Enclave and Cadillac SRX fell below average this year after being deemed reliable a year ago. The Chevrolet Volt hybrid ranked as GM's most reliable car, though the sample size was barely more than the magazine's minimum of 100 cars.
Despite improvement, domestic models still have reliability issues: Of 97 domestic models and versions for which the magazine had data, 62 of them, or 64 percent, rated average or better compared with 96 percent for Japanese brands.
Scion topped the brand ranking, followed by Lexus and Acura.