The Cream of the Crop

To those critics who say that the American auto manufacturers cannot build world-class quality cars, we say just look at the recently released Vehicle Satisfaction Scores by Tustin, California-based AutoPacific, Inc. The scores, (which reveal owner satisfaction levels with new 2001 model year cars and light trucks) pointed to a new brand leader, the venerable "Standard of the World" Cadillac. The General Motors division took the crown from last year's leader, the Lexus division of Toyota.

Based on surveys of 34,000 owners of new 2001 vehicles acquired in September through November, 2000, the (Vehicle Satisfaction Score) VSS ratings record satisfaction with vehicles overall, as well as with some 40 features important to a vehicle's operation, comfort and safety. The VSS study is an industry benchmark for objective new vehicle buyer and lessee satisfaction.

Though Cadillac did capture the VSS brand crown, the study still held plenty of good news for Lexus and Toyota. The individual vehicle model registering highest overall satisfaction was the Lexus LS 430 sedan, the successor model to the 2000 Lexus LS 400 that took the title one year ago. In addition to the LS 430, which was the winner in the Premium Luxury segment, the corporate combination of Toyota and Lexus had five segment leaders: Toyota Avalon in the Premium Mid-Size class, Toyota Camry in the Mid-Size class, Toyota Prius in the Alternate Fuel Vehicle class and Toyota Tundra in the Large Pickup Truck class.

While Toyota-Lexus took the most top spots, there was also glory for Ford and General Motors in the survey. Ford Motor Company had four representatives among the segment leaders, three of which were trucks. The Ford Excursion was named tops in the Large Sport Utility class; Ford F-150 Super Crew led the Four-Door Pickup Truck segment and the Lincoln Navigator was top scorer among Luxury Sport Utility vehicles. The Navigator was also the highest ranking truck overall. Ford's single car winner was the Ford Mustang in the Sporty Car class.

General Motors scored segment-topping honors in the Luxury Car class with the Cadillac DeVille and in the Full-Size Van segment with the GMC Savana and Chevrolet Express in a dead heat. Like General Motors, Nissan scored three segment wins. Its Infiniti I30 tied with Acura's RL as best among Contemporary Luxury Cars. The Nissan Quest was the surprise winner among Minivans, and the Nissan Frontier was the segment leader in the Compact Pickup Truck class.

DaimlerChrysler scored two segment wins with wildly different types of vehicles. The Mercedes-Benz SLK was the winner in the Sports Car class, while the Jeep Grand Cherokee was named best among Mid-size Sport Utilities. Honda hit paydirt in two categories: the Acura RL, as mentioned, tied the Infiniti I30 in the Contemporary Luxury Car class, and the Honda Civic, not surprisingly, took honors in the Compact Car category. Hyundai put Korean carmakers in the elite for the first time by taking the top prize in the Compact Sport Utility segment.

In addition to establishing segment winners, VSS also establishes numerical ratings for virtually every passenger car and light truck in the North American market. Among passenger cars, following LS 430 as top scorer was the Cadillac DeVille in second place, BMW 7-Series third, Toyota Avalon fourth and Mercedes-Benz S-class fifth. Among light trucks, ranking second behind Lincoln Navigator was the Ford Excursion, followed by the Lexus RX300 in third, GMC Yukon fourth and Acura's new MDX sport utility fifth.

As the survey showed, vehicles from all around the world are getting better than ever.

Luigi Fraschini observes the automotive scene from behind the wheel of a word-processor located in Cleveland.