General Motors has made considerable strides in improving the quality of its cars and trucks, but Honda and Toyota remain the benchmark of reliability in the U.S. automobile industry, according to the latest survey by Consumer Reports magazine.
In compiling data for its 2010 Annual New Car Reliability Survey, Consumer Reports found that 83% of Chevrolets, by far GM's largest brand, have average or better reliability records, up from 50% last year. Further, while some GM brands have in recent years ranked among the least reliable brands, they now rank above some major European brands, such as BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
The nonprofit organization's findings are based on responses rating 1.3 million vehicles owned by subscribers of Consumer Reports magazine or its website, ConsumerReports.org. The survey was conducted last spring and involved vehicles from the 2001 to 2010 model years.
New Models and Old Are Better
GM's quality inroads have been helped by the discontinuation of its Hummer, Pontiac and Saturn lines, which produced many models with subpar quality, the magazine said. What's more, new models, including the Chevrolet Camaro sports car (pictured) and front-wheel drive versions of the Buick LaCrosse sedan, have proven reliable from their introduction, while some older nameplates, including the Chevrolet Corvette, also now have higher reliability ratings.
Still, Consumer Reports said, GM is "a ways from the top when it comes to reliability," with Asian automakers, including Honda Motor (HMC) and Toyota Motor (TM), remaining out front.
Among U.S. automakers, Ford Motor (F) continues to build the most reliable vehicles, while Chrysler Group still struggles, lagging behind both Ford and GM. Chrysler, whose brands include Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler and recently Ram, is hampered by its aging model lineup.
Consumer Reports said 12 of the 20 Chrysler models for which it had sufficient data scored below average in reliability, and none scored above average. Still, there's hope for improved quality. Last year's purchase of Chrysler by Italy's Fiat means many products will either be replaced or redesigned in the near future.
Toyota and Honda Fare Well
Among Asian makes, although Toyota has been saddled with numerous recalls, its Toyota, Scion and Lexus brands remained among the most reliable and earned top scores in five categories. Among models that didn't fare as well were the Lexus GS and Lexus IS 250 convertible, which had below-average reliability. The redesigned 2010 Toyota Prius scored only average, following a recall earlier this year for antilock braking problems.
Honda and its luxury unit, Acura, also fared well, with their models topping reliability ratings in five categories. But problems with rear brake pads held four-cylinder versions of the Accord and Acura TSX to average.
Nearly all models manufactured by South Korean automakers Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors scored well, with only the Kia Sedona minivan scoring below average. The sister companies also had all six of their all-new 2010 models -- the Hyundai Genesis coupe, Sonata and Tucson; and Kia Forte, Sorento and Soul -- rated average or better for reliability, "an impressive first-year showing," Consumer Reports said.
Slippage in Europe
Nissan Motors (NSANY) also scored well with its mainstream models, such as the Nissan Maxima, Altima, Murano and Pathfinder, scoring average or better. However, the small Nissan Cube debuted on the rankings with a below-average rating, while the Nissan Titan large pickup truck dropped to below average. All luxury Infiniti models scored average or better.
Among European automakers, the magazine's assessment was less sanguine. While most brands have shown improvement in recent years, momentum seems to have stalled. "All Porsche and Volvo models are rated average or better," Consumer Reports said. "But Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz are among the worst automakers overall in terms of reliability."
As an example, Consumer Reports noted that six of Mercedes-Benz's 13 models were below average, and the GLK sports-utility vehicle was far below average.
Separately, Consumer Reports said it had reinstated recommendations for eight Toyota models that the Japanese automaker recalled in January for defects related to unintended acceleration. The massive recall of some 8 million cars in the U.S. prompted the magazine to suspend its "recommended" label on those models.
"We believe that Toyota has adequately addressed the problem of unintended acceleration and that its new vehicles on sale now are fundamentally safe," the magazine said in a blog post at its website. The eight models are the Avalon, Camry, Corolla, Highlander, Matrix, RAV4, Sequoia, and Tundra.
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