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GM hopes to match Japanese in quality study

DETROIT, May 29 Reuters reports that General Motors Corp. hopes to crack the Japanese dominance in a benchmark study on vehicle quality to be released Thursday, aiming to become the first Detroit automaker to place among the top three.

GM could top Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. Co. for third place on the annual J.D. Power & Associates Initial Quality Survey, which measures complaints from about 65,000 new vehicle buyers during the first 90 days of ownership. The world's largest automaker ranked fourth in last year's survey.

A vault into third could help GM overcome its decades-long perception of poor quality, which has caused many American consumers to favor Japanese models.

Meanwhile, Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler arm of DaimlerChrysler AG have also vowed that their scores will improve, but have not publicly set their sights as high as GM. Last year, DaimlerChrysler was fifth and Ford was last among the seven largest automakers in the study.

GM said it expects its score to improve to from 146 problems per 100 vehicles last year to the low 130's. That could be enough to pass Nissan, which scored 145 last year.

Nissan officials said they expect to score higher in the study, but declined to predict where it would finish.

Toyota Motor Corp., acknowledged as the leader in vehicle quality, was first last year with a score of 115, followed by Honda Motor Co. Ltd., with 133, according to a copy of last year's J.D. Power study obtained by Reuters. J.D. Power does not make public the scores obtained by automakers.

In a mid-year study given to automakers last fall, GM came in third place with a score of 146, ahead of Nissan's score of 153. Toyota was ranked No. 1 with a score of 109, followed by Honda with a score of 131.

If GM stays ahead, it would be the first American automaker to place among the top three in the 16-year history of the study, GM North America President Gary Cowger told Wall Street analysts in March.


About 40 percent of new car and truck buyers cite durability as a key factor in determining which brand of vehicle to buy, said Brian Walters, director of product research with J.D. Power.

"People are spending $25,000 on a new vehicle, they expect it to be problem-free," Walters said. "And when it's not, it has an adverse impact on their satisfaction, not only with the vehicle, but with the whole ownership experience."

It took decades for GM to finally get its quality on track. In the 1980s, GM spent billions of dollars on robotic equipment at its manufacturing plants to bring its efficiency and quality up to Japanese standards. But in one notorious incident, the robots wildly sprayed paint in all directions.

Another effort to match the Japanese resulted in GM's agreement in 1984 to open a plant with Toyota in Fremont, California, under Toyota management, to produce Chevrolet and Toyota cars side-by-side. But GM has since admitted that it was slow to adopt the lessons learned at the plant.

GM's notorious bureaucracy was the culprit in much of its troubled quality, rather than problems on the plant floor, analysts said. GM has since reorganized to better engineer vehicles, for example, by reducing the number of parts or suppliers, and making vehicles simpler to build.

From 1998 to 2001, GM has improved its initial quality score by 22 percent, beating the the industry average of 16 percent and many market leaders, including Nissan and Honda.


GM's renewed focus on quality will be put to the test this year, with more than two-thirds of its 29 North American assembly plants rolling out completely new or redesigned vehicles.

DaimlerChrysler also outperformed the industry from 1998 to 2001, raising its score by 21 percent, according to J.D. Power. Chrysler President Dieter Zetsche has said he wants Chrysler's quality to match Toyota's, and noted that Chyrsler's passenger cars matched the quality of Honda's cars last year.

But Ford, which has been involved in some highly-publicized recalls over the past year-and-a-half, including the Firestone tire recall, trailed the overall market from 1998 to 2001. Chairman Bill Ford has said fixing the company's quality problems was a top priority.

Despite the gains that GM and DaimlerChrysler have made, market leader Toyota shows no signs of letting up. Toyota increased its lead over both from 1998 to 2001, improving its initial quality study score by 26 percent.