After trailing Asian automakers for more than two decades, U.S. companies, led by Ford Motor (F) and General Motors, zoomed past their foreign competition in the latest survey measuring quality of new cars and trucks.
For the first time in 24 years, J.D. Power Initial Quality Study showed that owners of domestic makes reported fewer problems on average during the first 90 days of ownership than drivers of foreign cars and trucks, the California-based industry research group said Thursday.
Ford made some of the biggest strides in quality gains within individual models and finished fifth among all makes. Porsche topped all manufacturers, while recall-hobbled Toyota Motor (TM) tumbled to 21st place from sixth last year.
"Domestic automakers have made impressive strides in steadily improving vehicle quality, particularly since 2007," said David Sargent, J.D. Power's vice president of global research, in a statement. "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."
Still, Sargent said, domestic automakers can't take the improved survey results for granted and "need to consistently prove to consumers that they can produce models with quality that equals or beats that of the import brands."
Ford Tops Among "Volume Brands"
The initial-quality study ranks vehicles according to the number of problems reported for each 100 vehicles. The industry's overall average, which has fallen steadily during the last decade, is 109 problems for each 100 units.
U.S. manufacturers scored just below the industry mean with an average of 108 problems, down from 112 last year. Imports, meanwhile, showed 109 problems, up from 106 last year. That is a marked difference from just 10 years ago, when imported brands had far fewer initial problems than those made by U.S. manufacturers.
Combined, Ford and GM had 22 vehicles in the top quality rankings, but Chrysler Group lagged far behind its domestic rivals and the entire industry, J.D. Power said.
Ford, with 93 defects for each 100 vehicles, was the best-performing volume brand, beating Honda Motor (HMC) by two points. The Ford Focus was the highest ranked compact car, ahead of Honda's Civic and the Hyundai Elantra. Ford's Mustang was the highest-ranked midsize sporty car, while its Taurus took honors for best large car.
Foreign Luxury Makers Still Win On Quality
Top finisher Porsche had 83 problems per 100 vehicles, J.D. Power said. The German sports car maker was followed by Honda's Acura luxury-car division, which vaulted to second place up from 14th last year, while Germany's Mercedes-Benz, finished third, up from sixth place in 2009.
Toyota's luxury unit, Lexus, finished fourth with 88 problems for each 100 vehicles. It received awards for its GS, GX and LS models. The Lexus LS had the fewest quality problems in the industry, with just 55 problems per 100 vehicles, J.D. Power said. 2010 GX and LS models were both recalled by Toyota earlier this year to fix problems related to handling.
Among other makes taking multiple awards were Chevrolet, for its Avalanche and Tahoe truck models; Honda for its Accord and Accord Crosstour models; and Toyota for its FJ Cruiser sport-utility vehicle and Sienna minivan.
J.D. Power Initial Quality Study Top 10 Nameplate Ranking,
Problems Per 100 Vehicles:
Industry Average, 109