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Detroit automakers closing quality gap


June 22, 2009

Detroit automakers closing quality gap

By BRENT SNAVELY
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

The Detroit Three have closed the quality gap with foreign rivals on passenger cars, are beating the competition on trucks but still have work to do to improve crossover models, according to the closely watched J.D. Power and Associates 2009 Initial Quality Study.

The J.D. Power study surveyed more than 80,900 new car and truck buyers after they owned their vehicle for 90 days.
 

This year’s survey covers new cars and trucks purchased between November and February — a time frame marked by the lowest industry sales volume in decades, wild swings in vehicle purchasing trends and uncertainty about the future of Chrysler and GM as they lobbied for federal loans.
 

The overall industry average improved to 108 problems per 100 vehicles from 118 last year. That means customers can expect about one design or mechanical problem with a new vehicle.
 

Passenger cars produced by domestic automakers averaged 103 problems per 100 vehicles — the same as import brands.
 

“The gap … has narrowed to zero,” David Sargent, vice president of automotive research at J.D. Power said after presenting the study today to the Automotive Press Association in Detroit.
 

General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. have closed the quality gap compared with foreign automakers in most segments, according to closely watched quality study released Monday by J.D. Power and Associates.
 

The study also found that when it comes to trucks and SUVs, the quality of domestic manufacturers is slightly better than foreign manufacturers but domestic manufacturers’ quality lags behind on crossover vehicles.
 

With Detroit automakers beating rivals on trucks, Sargent said that the import lead on initial quality is primarily a result of strong import performance in crossovers.
 

Toyota Motor Corp. continued to shine. The Japanese automaker’s Lexus brand ranked first among all nameplates with 84 problems per 100 vehicles. Toyota also captured 10 segment awards — the most of any manufacturer.
 

Still, both GM and Ford said they were pleased with the results.
 

For GM, both Cadillac and Chevrolet brand finished in the top 10. Cadillac came in third place overall, and as the highest ranked domestic nameplate, with 91 problems per 100 vehicles. Just two years ago, Cadillac ranked 25th, said Jamie Hresko, GM vice president of global quality.
 

The challenge for the future, Hresko said, is to convince the public that GM has high quality.
 

“We are just going to continue to work hard over time to try to change that perception issue,” Hresko said.
 

Ford received the second most segment awards of any automaker, with top rankings for its redesigned F-150 pickup, Ford Mustang mid-size sports car, Ford Edge crossover and Mercury Sable full-size sedan.
 

“We’ve been able to deliver these results in probably one of the most difficult environments that I’ve ever faced,” said Bennie Fowler, Ford’s group vice president for global quality.
 

Scores for both Ford and Mercury improved compared with last year. However, Ford’s luxury brand Lincoln saw its score worsen to 129 problems per 100 vehicles, compared to the industry average of 108 problems per 100 vehicles.
 

Sargent said Lincoln’s score was tarnished by a difficult launch of the Lincoln MKS, an all-new luxury sedan that comprises a large percentage of the brand’s overall sales. He expects Lincoln’s quality will improve next year as the company perfects assembly of the MKS.
 

Meanwhile, Chrysler’s three brands, which include Dodge and Jeep, all remained below average. In 2008, Jeep finished last, but its overall quality score improved from 167 problems per 100 vehicles last year to 137 this year. That was the best improvement for Chrysler.
 

Dodge’s score, Sargent said, was held back by launch problems with the Dodge Ram pickup and Dodge Journey crossover.
 

Contact BRENT SNAVELY: 313-222-6512 or bsnavely@freepress.com

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