Domestics Press Imports in Dependability

In automotive terms, things just keep getting better and better.  That's a key inference to be drawn from the industry's most influential study examining the reliability of cars and trucks. The three-year-old vehicles put under the microscope by the California-based research firm recorded an impressive 12 percent overall improvement in long-term vehicle quality, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2005 Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS.)

At the industry level, manufacturers made a considerable leap in quality with improvements across all categories, J.D. Power reported. The industry average improved 32 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) compared to 2004, and, more specifically, nearly all nameplates and 84 percent of individual vehicle models included in the 2005 VDS also recorded year-over-year improvements. The categories showing the most significant improvements in 2005 versus 2004 include ride, handling and braking; engine; and interior.

The study also included some welcome good news for domestic manufacturers, who continue to battle the perception (and misconception) that their products are not as reliable as imports.  General Motors and Ford Motor Company brands did well in the study on an aggregate level, but since consumers buy individual models rather than corporations or brands, that is where the bright news is most important.  On the model level, GM topped eight segments, while Ford topped five.  In comparison, models from reliability icon Toyota Motor Corporation were number one in just four segments.

It was not surprising that GM products were tops in several truck segments, including Midsize Pickup (Chevrolet S-10), Light-Duty Full-Size Pickup (Cadillac Escalade EXT), Heavy-Duty Full-Size Pickup (Chevrolet Silverado HD) and Full-Size SUV (GMC Yukon/Yukon XL).  But more interesting was GM's dominance of dependability in popularly priced cars.  It had number-one-ranked vehicles in the Compact Car segment (Chevrolet Prizm), Entry Midsize Car (Chevrolet Malibu), Premium Midsize Car (Buick Century), and Full-Size Car (Buick LeSabre.)  Each of those segments with the exception of Full-Size Car is filled with competitive models from import nameplates.

Ford Motor Company, meanwhile, had segment leaders in Entry Luxury Car (Ford Thunderbird), Mid-Luxury Car (Lincoln Town Car), Midsize Van (Ford Windstar) and Full-Size Van (Ford E-Series.)  Mazda Miata from Ford-controlled Mazda led the Sporty Car segment.

Honda, which, like Toyota, has a sterling quality reputation, captured the top spot in only one segment, Entry SUV, with its CR-V.  Toyota 4Runner was the only Toyota-brand segment leader, but Toyota-built Lexus products won in Premium Luxury Car (LS 430), Entry Luxury SUV (RX 300) and Premium Luxury SUV (LX 470).  

The study measured problems experienced by original owners of three-year-old (2002 model-year) vehicles. According to actual retail transaction data from the Power Information Network, a division of J.D. Power and Associates, three-year-old vehicles of brands that perform above the industry average in VDS typically retain $1,000 more of their value than those of brands performing below the industry average. The 2005 Vehicle Dependability Study was based on responses from 50,635 original owners of 2002 model-year cars and light trucks.

Driving Today Contributing Editor Tom Ripley views the automotive scene and the human condition from his home in Villeperce, France.