- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2008

DETROIT - The quality of new cars improved across the industry this year, with Porsche, Honda, Toyota, General Motors and Ford among the automakers leading the pack, marketing and consulting company J.D. Power and Associates said Wednesday.

Porsche is the top brand in J.D. Power’s annual ranking of initial vehicle quality, which measures both mechanical and design problems in the first 90 days of ownership. Others in the top five are Nissan Motor Co.’s Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz, and Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus and Toyota brands.

In rankings by vehicle segments, Honda is the only brand with three winners - the Fit subcompact, Civic small car and CR-V crossover. Toyota, General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. have three winners each across all their brands. Overall, 26 of the 36 nameplates in the rankings improved from last year.

Chrysler LLC’s Jeep is the worst-performing brand, with 167 problems per 100 vehicles. Other brands in the bottom five are BMW AG’s Mini, Land Rover, GM’s Saturn and Suzuki.

David Sargent, vice president of automotive research at J.D. Power, said the most-improved vehicle this year is the Volkswagen Passat. He also cited the Chevrolet Malibu and Infiniti EX-Series, saying both vehicles had strong launches with relatively few problems, which is rare for all-new vehicles.

J.D. Power said overall quality improved to an average of 118 problems per 100 vehicles from 125 problems last year. Vehicle quality has steadily improved over the past decade; there were 176 problems per 100 vehicles in 1998.

The rankings are based on questionnaires from 81,500 people who bought or leased new 2008 vehicles between November and January. The questionnaires ask 228 questions on issues from handling, braking and engine trouble to seat comfort and stereo systems. Mr. Sargent said consumers reported that quality is up in every category except audio, entertainment and navigation systems.

The rankings are closely watched by automakers and frequently are used in advertising despite persistent questions about whether they show any real statistical difference between automakers. For example, if Jeep has 167 problems per 100 vehicles, that equals 1.67 problems per vehicle, making the difference with Porsche - at 0.87 problems per vehicle - seem less significant.

Mr. Sargent said there are more profound differences in the numbers for individual models, which aren’t released publicly but are shown to automakers.

He also said that even though the differences seem insignificant, they have an effect on consumers and whether they will stay with a brand or recommend it to others.

“For every small, incremental increase in quality, you will get more customers coming back to your brand,” Mr. Sargent said.

WINNER’S CIRCLE

Here are the top performers in J.D. Power and Associates’ annual survey of initial quality for 2008 model vehicles.

Sub-compact car: Honda Fit

Compact car: Honda Civic

Compact sporty car: Mazda MX-5 Miata

Compact premium sporty car: Mercedes Benz CLK-Class

Entry premium car: Infiniti EX-Series

Midsize car: Chevrolet Malibu

Midsize premium car: Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Infiniti M-Series (tie)

Large car: Pontiac Grand Prix

Large premium car: Lexus LS

Compact activity vehicle: Honda CR-V

Midsize activity vehicle: Dodge Durango

Midsize premium activity vehicle: Lexus RX

Large activity vehicle: Toyota Sequoia

Large premium activity vehicle: Lincoln Navigator

Midsize pickup: Dodge Dakota

Large pickup: Chevrolet Silverado LD

Van: Ford E-Series

Source: J.D. Power and Associates survey of more than 81,500 new-vehicle owners

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