- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2002

DETROIT (AP) Toyota Motor Corp. claimed the top spot in the annual J.D. Power and Associates initial quality study released yesterday, while General Motors Corp. scored the highest among American automakers and Ford Motor Co. rebounded from a disappointing showing a year ago.

Overall, auto industry quality improved by 10 percent over 2001 the largest quality improvement since 1997, the study said. Over the past five years, initial quality has improved 24 percent.

Toyota and its Lexus luxury line led nine of the 16 vehicle categories in the study.

Toyota trucks had the best quality in all but the full-size sport utility vehicle category, which was led by Ford.

The Ford Thunderbird also was rated the best entry luxury car, an unusual standing in the first year of a vehicle's production. The Thunderbird was also Ford's highest-rated vehicle.

"Ford needs to continue at a faster pace than the industry to make up lost ground," said Brian Walters, director of product research at J.D. Power.

Ford, including its Mazda unit, topped three segments. GM had four top-ranked models.

The Chevrolet Malibu made the biggest quality gain in the past year, followed by the Buick Century, Chevrolet Corvette and the Lexus GS sedan.

Korean automakers Kia Motors America Inc. and Hyundai Motor America Inc. showed the most improvement in the past year with gains of 21 and 19 percent, respectively.

Toyota and GM showed the biggest gains in quality over the past five years.

The study is based on responses from nearly 65,000 new vehicle buyers and lessees after 90 days of ownership regarding 135 potential problems.

This is the 16th year the Westlake Village, Calif., market research firm has produced the initial quality study.

"About three-quarters of problems can be root-caused to design and engineering," Mr. Walters said.

"Only about a quarter of the problems are related to actual manufacturing, which is why you have to start at the design stage to improve quality," he said.

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