Car quality ratings may not mean much for Buick, Jaguar

The latest JDPower vehicle dependability report is out. The results of the study were once considered a good way to market brands. Auto companies spent millions of dollars bragging about their high marks. Consumers were supposed to flood the showrooms to buy the models that got the best ratings.

The power of the JDPower numbers may be gone, at least for now. The top two brands in this year's rankings are Jaguar and Buick. Both are fighting sharply lower sales, and Jaguar may be turning to the British government for aid, despite being owned by Tata Motors (TTM), an Indian company.

Mercury also did well in the survey, but there are questions about whether it will remain an independent brand within Ford (F). Dodge received high marks for one of its cars, but it may not survive as a Chrysler product line.

The contrast between high-quality cars and cars that sell well may be diverging sharply for the first time in memory. That may be a sign that auto companies have improved the design and manufacturing of all of their products. It also may be a sign that consumers would rather buy the cheapest vehicles, or those with the biggest incentives, leaving the issue of how well the car runs until sometime down the road.

One thing is certain: The JDPower survey will not inspire the joy among the winning car companies that it has in years past.

Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.

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