Ford Stands Out In the Crowd…Most Reliable

detnews.com

October 28, 2009 http://detnews.com/article/20091028/AUTO01/910280377

Ford lauded for ‘world-class’ reliability

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

ALISA PRIDDLE
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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