Domestic Vehicle Quality Improves

It has become fashionable to knock General Motors these days.  The automotive trade press and the general business press are rife with stories deriding the company that is still the largest automotive manufacturer in the world.  But now new data from J.D. Power and Associates, the California-based market research firm, indicates the widely held perception that GM builds vehicles that are much poorer in product quality than the import manufacturers is simply not true. 

In the study General Motors vehicles were tops in initial quality in five of the industry's 18 segments. The GM segment winners were Chevrolet Malibu/Malibu Maxx (Entry Midsize Car), Buick Century (Premium Midsize Car), Buick LeSabre (Full-Size Car), GMC Sierra HD (Full-Size Heavy Duty Pickup) and Chevrolet Suburban (Full-Size SUV).  And though there were no Japanese competitors in the Full-Size Car and Full-Size Heavy-Duty Pickup truck segments, more telling was the fact that GM products were prominent among the top three in quality in a number of segments.  For example, in the Premium Mid-Size Car segment the top three vehicles were all GM-built:  Buick Century followed by Chevrolet Impala and Pontiac Grand Prix.  In the Full-Size SUV segment the Chevrolet Suburban led the pack followed by the Chevrolet Tahoe, while the Toyota Sequoia ranked third.

News was also good for Ford Motor Company, like GM, much-maligned lately.  Ford led the Mid-Size Pickup Truck segment with the Ford Explorer Sport Trac, followed by the Ford Ranger, and the Ford F-150 was tops in the Light-Duty Full-Size Pickup truck segment.  The Mercury Grand Marquis was second place in quality in Full-Size Cars, followed by the new Ford Five Hundred.

Though the domestic have made inroads, there were two other very telling conclusions to be drawn from the survey.  First, on a segment-by-segment basis, Toyota-built vehicles, which include the Lexus luxury brand and the Scion entry-level brand, topped 10 of the 18 segments.  Interestingly, the Toyota brand ranked seventh, behind (from number one) Lexus, Jaguar, BMW, Buick and Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz in a tie for fifth.  In addition, Honda, which has gained reputation for quality rivaling Toyota, finished 12th and its sister brand, Acura, was 15th, just above the overall industry average.

While the domestic manufacturers have been painted as "poor quality" builders, it is interesting to note that the bottom of the initial quality list is strictly the domain of the import brands.  In ascending order from worst, the ignominious "bottom five" were Suzuki, Mazda, Land Rover, Volkswagen and Porsche. 

IQS is a model-level study that measures 135 attributes across nine categories, including ride/handling/braking, engine and transmission, and a broad range of quality problems symptoms reported by vehicle owners.  The 2005 Initial Quality Study was based on responses from more than 62,000 purchasers and lessees of new 2005 model-year cars and trucks, who were surveyed after 90 days of ownership. It does not, as some media outlets erroneously reported, measure "reliability."  Instead, it looks at vehicle problems and perceived problems in the first three months of vehicle ownership.

Driving Today Contributing Editor Tom Ripley reports on the international auto industry and the human condition from his home in Villeperce, France.