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BMW placed third when automakers with a single brand were included and improved on their score from last year...:thumb:

Toyota Tops Vehicle Quality Study
Thu May 30, 2:55 PM ET
By Michael Ellis

DETROIT (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp. (news - web sites) scored the best marks ever on a benchmark survey of vehicle quality, while General Motors Corp. climbed to third place, the highest ranking ever for a U.S. automaker, people familiar with the results of the study said on Thursday.

Toyota again dominated the annual J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Survey, which polled more than 65,000 new car owners during their first 90 days of ownership about their initial impressions and problems.

Among major automakers, Toyota averaged 107 problems per 100 vehicles, down from 115 last year. Honda Motor Co. (news - web sites) Ltd. followed in second place again with 113, down from 133, while GM moved ahead of Nissan Motor Co. with a score of 130, down from 146.

The industry average score improved by 10 percent, the best gains since 1997, to 133 problems per 100 vehicles.

Top-ranking automakers often tout the results of the study in advertisements, while others go back and make revisions to their cars and trucks to try to garner a better score and improve customer satisfaction.

"Initial quality is an important driver to customer satisfaction with the ownership experience and has far-reaching impact on brand reputation," said Brian Walters, director of product research at J.D. Power and Associates, a California market research firm.

GM's vault into third spot could help it overcome its decades-long perception of poor quality, which has caused many American consumers to steer clear of its vehicles in favor of Japanese models. GM also had the top three vehicle assembly plants in North and South America in the study.

GM officials said they have reorganized the company's notorious bureaucracy to better engineer vehicles, for example, by reducing the number of parts or suppliers, and making vehicles simpler to build.

DETROIT AUTOMAKERS MOVE UP

Out of 16 car and truck segments, Toyota and its luxury division Lexus led in the quality rankings in nine.

In a troubling sign for Detroit's automakers, which dominate truck sales, Toyota virtually swept the truck awards, topping six of seven categories, including mid-size sport utility vehicles and full-size pickup trucks.

"It is a remarkable performance. They've captured virtually every truck award that we have," Walters told Reuters in an interview.

GM won four of 16 vehicle categories. GM's Chevrolet Malibu and Buick Century won the top entry-level and premium-level mid-size car categories, beating their Japanese rivals, usually considered to have the best quality mid-size cars.

Meanwhile, GM's cross-town rivals DaimlerChrysler AG and Ford Motor Co. also improved, while Nissan which finished third last year, fell to a tie for sixth place with Volkswagen AG.

DaimlerChrysler finished fourth with a score of 141, down from 145, while Ford, plagued by high-profile recalls last year when it finished in seventh with a score of 162, moved up to fifth with an average of 143 problems per 100 vehicles. Ford's results include Mazda Motor Corp. (news - web sites)

NISSAN SURPRISED BY HIGHER PROBLEMS

Nissan scored 152 problems, up from 145 last year, while Volkswagen had 152 problems, down from 159.

"The results were surprising and disappointing for us," said Emil Hassan, Nissan's senior vice president of North American manufacturing, quality, purchasing and logistics.

Hassan said the drop was not due to the Nissan's immense cost-cutting or the restructuring of its supplier base, which helped the Japanese automaker in its turnaround. "We're very careful that the changes we make don't affect the product quality," he said.

Luxury makes dominated the top spot among scores for individual brands. Toyota's Lexus remained in first place, followed by a tie for second between Honda's Acura and Nissan's Infiniti.

Including automakers with a single brand, Germany's BMW AG placed third with 116, down from 119 last year, followed by Porsche in fourth with 122, down from 140 last year. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. (news - web sites) placed eighth behind GM, DaimlerChrysler and Ford with a score of 147, down from 169.

Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd. improved to 156 from 192, followed by Subaru at 157 versus 183, Isuzu at 195 from 192, Suzuki at 210 versus 234, and Kia at 212 versus 267.


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