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Toyota's troubles behind its big tumble in quality survey

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Toyota's troubles behind its big tumble in quality survey

Detroit 3 working to improve more



Toyota's recall troubles sank the ranking of the automaker's namesake brand in J.D. Power and Associates' annual initial quality survey to its lowest in the study's 24-year history.

The Japanese automaker came in 21st in a survey of quality that measures problems during a vehicle's first three months -- mostly because of issues related to the automaker's massive recalls in late 2009 and 2010, said David Sargent, J.D. Power's vice president of global vehicle research.

Toyota, while disappointed with the results, expected to fall in the ranking, a company spokesman said.

Sargent said the decline may be temporary. "It's probably a one- or two-year phenomenon," he said.

Toyota's luxury brand, Lexus, didn't suffer as much as the Toyota brand. It fell three spots from first in 2009 to fourth.

The losses by Toyota paved the way for Ford to take the lead among high-volume, non-luxury brands.

Though Porsche and several luxury names led the survey, among non-luxury brands, Ford led, with 0.93 problems per vehicle, followed by Honda, with 0.95 problems per vehicle, and Hyundai, which had 1.02 problems per vehicle.

The study showed that most consumers have one design or defect complaint in the first 90 days of owning a new car and truck -- about the same as last year. The average number of problems per vehicle across the industry was 1.09 in this year's study, compared with 1.08 last year.

J.D. Power conducted the survey from February through May. More than 82,000 respondents answered questions about whether their 2010 model-year vehicles experienced any of 228 problems.

Ford's next challenge

Ford and its sister brand Lincoln were the only two domestic brands to rank above the study's industry average.

The Dearborn automaker's performance lifted Detroit's brands overall, so they could take a slight lead against their foreign rivals.

"The men and women here have been working very hard to achieve this goal," said Bennie Fowler, Ford's group vice president of global quality and new model launches.

"Our challenge now," Fowler said, "is to distance ourselves from the competition."

GM reports even more progress

At crosstown rival GM, all of the automaker's brands, except for Buick, showed more problems.

The decline, Sargent said, is because of the number of high volume launches GM undertook in 2010.

The survey weighs results based on a vehicle's volume. For 2010, GM launched five new models, including the Chevrolet Equinox, Camaro and Cadillac SRX -- all high-volume vehicles. Since automakers typically have more problems when they start production of a new model, GM's scores fell for the year.

"GM is good at beating problems out of launches," said Sargent, who expects that GM will improve next year.

"Our internal tracking data already shows on these launch models that we've already made significant progress," said Dan Nicholson, GM's vice president of global quality.

Despite the declines in its quality scores, GM won awards for best quality in three SUV and pickup segments.

Chrysler on the right track

Meanwhile, Chrysler's lack of new models for 2010 helped improve the automaker's results. Chrysler boosted its overall quality score by 10 points.

"The Ram, Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep brands are continuing to improve at a rate faster than the competition," said Doug Betts, Chrysler's senior vice president of quality.

Sargent agrees that Chrysler is on the right track, and expects Chrysler's brands to come close to or beat the industry average in two or three years.

"Chrysler is not where it wants to be," Sargent said, "but it's headed in the right direction."



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