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Toyota recalls may close nagging perception gap

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Toyota recalls may close nagging perception gap

American automakers may benefit from quality concerns



The most lasting consequence of Toyota’s embarrassing recall of 8.5 million vehicles worldwide might be one that benefits Detroit automakers.

Finally, we might see the closing of the perception gap about the quality of Japanese vs. American automobiles.

Even after Detroit automakers have fixed all manner of dysfunction within their companies, they’ve struggled to eliminate the lingering belief in consumers’ minds that Toyotas and Hondas are bulletproof, and that GM, Ford and Chrysler models are, well, inferior.

But the reality — as millions of Toyota owners are now learning — doesn’t quite line up with that once-lofty perception.

Folks are finally learning that Toyota isn’t perfect and that the cars and trucks made by Detroit automakers are a lot better than most people think.

The quality reality

The absolute truth is this: The gap in quality between Japanese and American brands is usually so small that even the experts acknowledge that it is barely relevant.

Take the annual J.D. Power and Associates annual “initial quality study,” for example.

First of all, the “study” is actually a “survey” that asks buyers 228 questions about their new car or truck after 90 days of ownership. Those questions range from problems experienced with critical parts, such as the engine, to pesky issues with, say, the design of navigation systems.

Toyota’s Lexus earned the best score in the survey, with customers reporting 84 problems per 100 vehicles. The worst performer, BMW’s Mini, had 165 problems reported per 100 vehicles. That sure looks like a big difference, but break down that “per 100 vehicles.”

What this study really found was that consumers reported about 1 problem in every Lexus and less than 2 problems in the last-place Mini. That means every brand sold in America had about 1 to 2 problems per vehicle.

And the difference in initial quality per vehicle between the nation’s top three brands, Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota, was 1.03, 1.02 and 1.01, respectively. That means the difference is so small it’s actually measured by the one-hundredths per vehicle.



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