Chrysler, Ford take hits on reliability, GM brands pick up in annual Consumer Reports survey

October 30, 2012
Chrysler, Ford take hits on reliability
GM brands pick up in annual Consumer Reports survey
By KARL HENKEL / The Detroit News
Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC fared poorly in Consumer Reports’ annual reliability survey released Monday, while all General Motors Co. brands improved their scores.

Ford Motor Co.’s Ford and Lincoln brands continued their two-year plummet in the rankings. Ford finished 27th among 28 car brands. Lincoln finished No. 26.

Chrysler, Dodge and Ram ranked just above those brands at 23rd, 24th and 25th, but the Auburn Hills automaker didn’t have as far to fall. Jeep ranked 19th.

The influential survey scores and ranks the predicted reliability of new vehicles based on owner experiences with 1.2 million vehicles.

Seven Japanese brands — Scion, Toyota, Lexus, Mazda, Subaru, Honda and Acura — topped the 2012 list.

Audi was the biggest gainer, moving 18 spots to No. 8. Jaguar finished last.

Consumer Reports cited problems with Ford’s new vehicles — most notably the PowerShift transmissions in the automaker’s subcompact Fiesta and compact Focus — and its problematic MyFord and MyLincoln Touch infotainment systems.

“Ford had a pretty bad year,” said Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports, at an Automotive Press Association event in Detroit.

Fisher’s presentation also noted that Ford plans to introduce its MyFord and MyLincoln touch systems — referred to as a “troublesome, intolerant system” — in future models.

On Monday, Ford reinforced its commitment to in-car technology.

“We listen closely and value feedback on our vehicles — whether it’s from customers or third parties, such as Consumer Reports,” Ford spokeswoman Francesca Montini said. “We remain absolutely committed to continuously improving and providing the highest-quality vehicles to our customers.”

Chrysler options a problem
Rankings for Chrysler Group LLC products fell, though not as dramatically as Ford brands, and for different reasons.

Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands dropped in the rankings compared with a year ago; the spinoff Ram brand made its first appearance in the survey.

While Chrysler’s overall quality has improved, additional features have led to more problems, Fisher said. Chrysler’s 300 midsize sedan with a V6 engine ranked as the brand’s best vehicle, but the same car with a V8 and more options ranked worst.

“Chrysler Group has made significant strides in improving the quality of the entire product line in recent years, which has been reflected in a variety of different surveys,” said Doug Betts, Chrysler’s senior vice president of quality.”We do know that our warranty claim data was 25 percent better for 2012 model year than 2011 model year, so we had expected this survey to show improvement.”

GM scored victories with all four brands in the survey, led by luxury brand Cadillac, which jumped 14 spots to No. 11. Cadillac was the highest-rated domestic brand in this year’s survey.

GMC jumped 10 spots to No. 12, and Chevrolet and Buick both improved over last year.

The boost in reliability for GM’s brands stems from the company’s cultural change in the past few years to focus completely on the customer, said Bob Ottolini, GM’s executive director for global program quality.

“We’re really concentrating on solid, steady improvements on initial quality, long-term reliability and durability … and really overall product excellence as we continue to excite the customers about our cars,” he said.

Ford, Lincoln’s freefall
The most significant storyline, however, was Ford and Lincoln’s freefall.

Two years ago, the Dearborn automaker was “Detroit’s poster child for reliability,” Consumer Reports said, cracking the top 10 brands. But Ford fell 10 spots last year to No. 20; it crashed seven more spots this year. Lincoln fell 12 spots this year.

Consumer Reports cited multiple reasons for Ford’s poor reliability scores, particularly in its Explorer, Fiesta and Focus.

Independent groups, such as J.D. Power & Associates, have blasted the MyFord Touch system. Consumer Reports recently said it “frustrates us like few other control systems in any other brand’s automobiles.”

Ford says customer satisfaction jumped 25 percentage points since it issued a software upgrade for MyFord Touch in March. It said 71 percent of owners with the upgrade said they would recommend MyFord Touch to friends. The software updates were not reflected in the survey.

Ford’s new Escape and Fusion and Lincoln MKZ were not included in the analysis because they were redesigned this year. The Fusion and MKZ are just hitting dealerships now.

Ford may not see a sales decline as a result of the survey.

“We’re not seeing indications that they hurt sales,” said Michelle Krebs, auto analyst at Edmunds.com. She said Ford-brand vehicles were No. 1 in both shopping consideration and purchasing intent on Edmunds.com in September and have been rising since March.

khenkel@detnews.com

(313) 222-2504

Detroit News Staff Writer

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