Ford Stands Out In the Crowd…Most Reliable

October 28, 2009

Ford lauded for ‘world-class’ reliability

Consumer Reports says carmaker has achieved ‘world-class’ quality status

The Detroit News

Detroit — Ford Motor Co. is the most reliable domestic automaker, and continued quality improvements have brought its vehicles almost bumper to bumper with its Japanese competitors, Consumer Reports magazine said Tuesday.

“Ford has secured its position as the only Detroit automaker with world-class reliability,” Consumer Reports said in releasing its 2009 Annual Car Reliability Survey to the Automotive Press Association here.

The endorsement for Ford comes as Detroit’s Big Three fight to retain market share against strong foreign competitors and as General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC strive to show the government and American taxpayers that a strong domestic auto industry is worth saving and can lead the field. GM and Chrysler, however, didn’t fare as well as Ford and still have work to do, Consumer Reports said.

“This is just one more proof point, but it’s a great testament because that’s not a statement (Consumer Reports) has always made about us,” said Bennie Fowler, Ford’s global quality chief.

And it’s the result of dedicated work to get there.

When Ford first closed the quality gap with Honda and Toyota a few years ago, “we didn’t know if it was a fluke or if they could maintain it,” said Rik Paul, automotive editor for Consumer Reports. But Ford continued to produce well-made vehicles that testers and readers appreciate.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally spoke repeatedly about reliability when he took over the company, and he visited the magazine to better understand and address lackluster findings that the company’s vehicles had previously suffered.

Efforts at Ford today include a system that sends information about a problem to team members on the assembly line within 24 hours of a vehicle being brought into a dealership so changes can be made to correct the issue and prevent a recurrence.

Toyota, which consistently does well in the survey, also takes any slips seriously — such as the Lexus GS that was rated below average.

“Historically, when a car’s quality has slipped, the problem is rectified the following year,” said Toyota Motor Corp. spokesman Curt McAllister. “We’re not sure what the problem was with the GS, but we will go through the data with Consumer Reports.”

About 1.4 million readers submitted data on vehicles from 2000 to 2009 model years, and the reliability results augment staff road tests of current vehicles to determine whether a vehicle is recommended to buyers.

Toyota and Honda Motor Co. still dominate the industry for long-term reliability, and the Honda Insight topped the list as the single most reliable vehicle. The Volkswagen Touareg was last in the survey. Of the 48 models with top reliability scores, 36 were Asian brands. Toyota had 18; Honda had eight; Nissan Motor Co., four; and Hyundai Motor Co./Kia Motors Corp. and Subaru each had three.

GM had some “bright spots” and appears to be on the right track if new vehicles such as the Chevrolet Malibu are any indication, but Chrysler “still struggles” and has a long way to go with only a single vehicle recommended by the testers and readers of the magazine. Last year, the Auburn Hills automaker had none recommended.

Bankruptcy filings by GM and Chrysler did not affect results — the survey was taken in the spring before the companies completed their stints under Chapter 11 protection, Paul said. And bankruptcy should not affect next year’s results if readers are objectively noting things that break on their cars, Paul said.

Of 48 GM models, 20 were average. The all-wheel-drive Chevrolet Traverse/Buick Enclave crossovers did well, and the magazine now recommends the Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra light-duty pickups.

“Consumer Reports is one of several third-party inputs GM takes seriously because we realize the influence it has on purchase decisions,” said Jamie Hresko, GM vice president of global quality.

Chrysler faces the biggest challenge. Its three brands are among the four worst, and more than a third of Chrysler products are rated much worse than average. Only the Dodge Ram 1500 is recommended, and there are few new cars and trucks on the horizon to boost future scores, Paul said.

As bad as that sounds, it is an improvement over last year when the Chrysler Sebring was the worst single vehicle on the list and no models were recommended.

Chrysler will detail efforts to restore quality in its five-year business and product plan to be unveiled Nov. 4 and is expected to talk openly about the need to correct quality and other errors committed under previous owners. Chrysler’s newest partner, Fiat SpA, has implemented its manufacturing processes and quality controls, and improvement already can be seen, Chrysler spokeswoman Jodi Tinson said.

Warranty claims have been reduced 30 percent in the last 18 months, she said, adding that “the Ram represents where we are going.”

The problem, said Consumer Reports senior auto engineer Jake Fisher, is that Fiat in Europe is known for its style, not its quality.

“There could be a lot of very pretty cars broken down on the side of the road,” Fisher said.

That should not be the case for Ford products, as about 90 percent had average or better reliability, according to the survey.

The Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan beat out the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry for the second year.

“It’s rare for Consumer Reports to see family sedans from domestic carmakers continue to beat the reliability scores of such highly regarded Japanese models as the Camry and Accord,” said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports’ Automotive Test Center. The last domestic that had better reliability than the Camry and Accord was the Buick Regal in 2004, he said.

GM’s Malibu with a V-6 also did well and “is on par with the most reliable family sedans,” Champion said.

Ford’s upscale Lincoln brand did not fare as well. All-wheel-drive versions of the Lincoln MKS, MKX and MKZ came in below average. But the MKZ was ranked stronger than the Lexus ES or Acura TL.

The Honda Accord dipped in overall ratings, something Honda spokesman Chuck Schifsky said is not uncommon for a new car. “Customers may have problems with new features and technology they are not used to. But I think the study showcases the hallmarks of the Honda brand: durability, quality and reliability.”

The Nissan Armada/Infiniti QX56 large SUVs have brought their reliability up to average, but the magazine expressed concerns with the rear-drive Nissan Titan pickup, Quest minivan and tiny Versa sedan.

Continuing their quality climb are Hyundai and Kia. Scoring well were the Hyundai Elantra and Tucson and the Kia Sportage. Hyundai’s foray into the luxury segment with the Genesis proved above average with the V-6 and average with the new V-8 engine. Not as strong are the Kia Sedona minivan and Sorento SUV.

“The results are not an anomaly,” said Hyundai spokesman Dan Bedore. “They are the dividends of our huge investment to improve quality.”

Small cars fared well. Of 37 in the survey, 20 scored above average, including the Honda Fit, Scion xD and VW Golf.

Half of the 42 family cars tested were above average, including five of eight hybrids in this segment (Prius, Fusion, Milan, Camry and Nissan Altima hybrids).

Among the least reliable vehicles in their class are the all-wheel-drive Lexus GS, Nissan Versa and Subaru Impreza WRX.

European automakers showed some improvement again this year. The reliability of Mercedes-Benz vehicles has improved; most are now average or better, and the new GLK proved a strong new entry in its first year.

Results are more mixed for BMW AG, as the 535i sedan and X3 SUV fell and the new 135i scored below average. The only model Consumer Reports recommends is the BMW 328i.

The VW Rabbit/Golf and new CC were above average, and the Jetta TDI is the only diesel the magazine recommended. The Passat and Audi A3 have improved to average, along with the Tiguan SUV.

Porsche saw its Boxster fall below average and the magazine no longer recommends it.

The reliability report is in the December issue of Consumer Reports, which goes on sale Nov. 3.

Bryce Hoffman and Scott Burgess contributed.
© Copyright 2009 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.

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Cars With The Worst Fuel Economy

Lower fuel prices give surprising boost to big pickup trucks, SUVs
By Hannah Elliott – Forbes

This month, gas prices are almost a dollar lower per gallon than they were a year ago. But experts say they will climb significantly the moment any sort of economic recovery occurs.

And thanks to that prolonged dip in fuel costs (oil prices have remained between $65 and $80 a barrel for 10 straight weeks), sales of compact and subcompact cars have plunged. Yet limited-edition cars like the $105,000, 470-horsepower Jaguar XJL Supercharged Neiman Marcus Edition, which gets a combined 17 miles per gallon, are selling out in a matter of minutes in special online sales.

Fans of the Ford F-Series trucks and Chevrolet Suburban are taking advantage of the reprieve as well, especially as the end-of-2009 sales season draws to a close. Each of those vehicles reported sales increases of more than 3 percent over September of last year — some big SUVs even saw bumps as high as 23 percent.

Attractive as those vehicles may be at the moment, they’re likely to lose their appeal as soon as the economy shows signs of improvement — they’re some of the most fuel-thirsty on the market today.

Behind the numbers
To determine this year’s cars with the worst fuel economy, we evaluated data provided by Vincentric, a Michigan-based automotive data and analysis firm, as well as information provided by the U.S. Department of Energy. We broke our list into vehicle segments to provide a more accurate picture of which cars don’t compete, efficiency-wise, with their peers. Otherwise, our list would be limited to low-volume, high-end performance cars and luxury SUVs.

President Obama’s administration has taken two tacks in encouraging fuel efficiency despite the current low gas prices, Stephan Gallon wrote recently in a R.L. Polk & Co. report: grants, like the $2.4 billion given to develop electric and hybrid batteries; and legislation, like the CAFÉ standards requiring vehicles to average 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016.

Automakers are working toward efficiency in different ways. Nissan and Tesla have developed electric technology: Tesla with its $102,000 Roadster, and Nissan with the LEAF, expected to cost $30,000 next year. Others have developed hybrids and microcars.

But none of those is the silver bullet to gasoline independence, says Brian Gush, Bentley’s director of chassis and powertrain engineering. “They are all part of the answer.”

In the meantime, there’s still plenty of room on the road — and in the hearts of consumers — for big, gas-guzzling vehicles. Last month, sales of all SUVs and trucks were down 29 percent, about even with sales of cars. But the $79,275 Land Rover Range Rover, which gets a combined 15.5 miles to the gallon, and the $56,050 Infiniti QX56, which gets a combined 14.5 miles to the gallon, both beat sales results of September 2008.

The fact that consumers have seemingly forgotten the all-time high of $4.11 a gallon in July 2008 is to be expected, experts say.

“I’m kind of embarrassed for the American buying public because once the fuel prices started to settle out a little bit, many of us go back to our old kind of ‘flaunting it’ ways,” says James Bell, an auto market analyst for Kelley Blue Book, an Irvine, Calif.-based auto valuation company. “The SUV market hasn’t really dried up and disappeared the way we thought it might after the first fuel-price scare.”

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Cash for Clunkers Trade-Ins Piling Up

Trade-ins from the Cash for Clunkers program are piling up and auto recyclers are seeking more time to meet the deadline for disposing of all those vehicles.

Cash for Clunkers Trade-Ins Piling Up

Cash for Clunkers Trade-Ins Piling Up

At some places, Ford Explorers, Chevy Blazers, Chrysler Town & Country minivans and other popular clunkers are parked bumper to bumper on several acres, many marked “C4C” on their windows, waiting to be drained of fluids, stripped of valuable parts and eventually flattened for scrap.

“I’ve got a parking lot of almost 4,000 vehicles right now,” said Harry Haluptzok, chief executive of John’s Auto Parts in Blaine, Minn., near Minneapolis. His business typically dismantles 100 vehicles per week, but the workload has now more than doubled, and Haluptzok hired 10 more workers to keep up with all the extra vehicles.

Under the program, the cars are required to be crushed or shredded within six months of the date the vehicle is transferred from the dealership. Recyclers say the deadline, even a few months away, will be hard as they try to remove spare parts such as transmissions, front and rear axles, starters and alternators.

“True recycling is using something to its fullest potential and then recycling it over again by making it into steel and sending it out to become another engine or transmission or car,” said Jeff Cantor, an auto recycler in Candia, N.H. “We’re breaking that circle here by crushing good quality parts. We can’t process them quick enough in six months.”

Consumers bought nearly 700,000 new vehicles in late July and August through the program, taking advantage of rebates of up to $4,500 on new cars in return for trading in their older vehicles. Congress tripled the size of its original $1 billion price tag because of the program’s popularity.

Used engines from the vehicles were required to be destroyed to promote improved fuel efficiency.

The American Recyclers Association, a trade group representing auto recyclers, said the six-month deadline to crush the vehicles was developed in line with the initial $1 billion program, but never took into account the additional vehicles sold when the program was expanded. The association met with the Transportation Department in late September seeking an additional six months to recycle the cars.

“We do have a lot of facilities that have two or three times the number of vehicles they could ever have imagined getting. They’re trying to process these in addition to their regular business,” said Michael Wilson, the trade group’s executive director.

Transportation Department spokeswoman Sasha Johnson said the department was aware of the request and noted that under the regulations, “most trade-ins through the CARS program do not need to be crushed until at least early next year.”

In metropolitan Los Angeles, Aadlen Bros. Auto Wrecking in Sun Valley brought in about 6,000 vehicles through the Clunkers program since early September. “At times, we were having to stack cars on top of cars — it got unruly there for a little bit,” auto recycle Nathan Adlen said.

Most of the vehicles on their 26-acre lot go into a self-service yard, letting customers find the used parts they need for their vehicles. A car typically stays there for a month, but many vehicles have gone to the crusher earlier than normal because of the influx.

In Minnesota, Haluptzok expected to receive more than 1,000 cars through the program but saw his load grow to nearly 5,000. Each vehicle needs to be drained of oil, antifreeze and other fluids and then properly recycled.

“If it’s about recycling, the thing to do is to give us another six months and let us do them the correct way each time,” he said.

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Car Show Back In Studio October 25th

We are back this Saturday. Join in the fun and find out what kind of trouble the crew found themselves in, over the break. If all goes as planned we’ll be sending Ken up in a weather balloon…or, maybe not.

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More Distracting News

Ford testers try to balance in-car safety, technology

The Detroit News

Dearborn –In a laboratory beneath Ford Motor Co.’s Product Development Center, a team of scientists and technicians is using driving simulators to study how motorists interact with new, onboard technology and ensure that systems like Sync do not become too distracting.

The ubiquity of cellular telephones and the proliferation of in-car technologies such as navigation systems and voice-activated music players mean today’s car trip involves a lot more than just getting from Point A to Point B. But all of this technology has made driver distraction a concern.

Ford has created the Human Machine Interface Verification Laboratory — informally known as the “Distraction Lab” — to make sure new features make driving safer, not less safe.

“This is where we make the determination about what can or can’t go into a product,” said Jeff Greenberg, senior technical leader of vehicle design research and advanced engineering at Ford.

The lab includes a full-sized vehicle simulator that technicians can configure to match the interior layout of any Ford vehicle. They can then use the simulator to study how driving performance is affected by various actions.

Another system uses special goggles to measure how much time a driver looks away from the road when using things such as the navigation system. The same system can track how much information a driver can read off a screen in a single glance.

Using the results of these tests, Ford has made significant changes to systems such as Sync, the onboard computer connectivity and entertainment system it developed with Microsoft Corp. For example, drivers cannot manually scroll through their cell phone’s address book while driving.

Ford engineers also have modified the interface of some systems to make them more rapidly readable.

“This kind of research is going to become very important,” said safety expert Sean Kane of Safety Research & Strategies Inc. of Rehoboth, Mass. “Distracted driving is the hot issue in motor vehicle safety today.”

In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that distracted driving contributes to 80 percent of all road accidents.

Kane said much of that distraction comes from the technology drivers bring into the vehicle with them — like cell phones and music players. He said finding ways for motorists to control these technologies without taking their eyes off the road is one way to address the problem.

Ford says the average driver looks away from the road for two seconds while selecting a song using its Sync system, compared to 25 seconds using a handheld MP3 player.

But Greenberg says the biggest surprise he and his researchers have discovered is that younger drivers are more distracted by such technologies than older motorists. He said most experts assumed that teens, who have been surrounded by high-tech devices since infancy, would be better able to use them while driving.

“We found absolutely, positively, unambiguously that is bunk,” he said. The distraction level of adult drivers increased by a factor of four when they tried to dial a cell phone while driving. But the distraction level of teen drivers increased by a factor of 13.

“It’s very hard to get an experienced adult driver to pull their eyes away from the road,” he said.
© Copyright 2009 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.

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