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Consumer Reports @APA Detroit - Auto Quality Report

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By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau
Photo by Bob Benko

David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports Auto Road Test Center, presented the much-anticipated results of the 2010 Annual Auto Survey to the Automotive Press Association in Detroit today. We didn’t find many surprises in the numbers or rankings. They mostly support what we’ve been seeing in the industry, with one exception.

The overview: GM continues to improve substantially in quality and dependability, Ford still leads among American manufacturers and Chrysler hasn’t begun to make a move. Toyota and Honda still lead the rankings and the only real surprise is the unexpectedly weak rankings of the German luxury brands.

The rankings are based on thorough testing (about 50 categories) of about 80 cars that they surreptitiously buy and about 1.3 million paper and on-line responses to lengthy survey circulated to 5 million subscribers. The results are carefully tabulated then shared with the public through the Consumer Reports magazine and their Website. These rankings are watched closely by consumers and the industry constituting one of the most important factors in new car purchase decisions.

Ford continues to lead the domestics with Fusion and Fusion Hybrid leading the Ford stable. A full 90% of Fords and Lincolns now have average or better ratings. Ford has posted modest but consistent improvements over the past half dozen years. We look for that to continue supporting Ford’s announcement this week of the best quarterly profit in their history.

GM posted the most dramatic progress due to some new models that have been successful right out of the box and dumping three brands with some poor performers during the bankruptcy transition. Hummer, Saturn and Pontiac all had some older models that were a bit troublesome.

Chrysler has not begun to introduce new vehicles but Mr. Champion reports they’ve driven some preproduction models and are impressed. So, look for Chrysler to begin improving next year. Though, in Europe Chrysler’s new partner Fiat is not known for great quality and dependability either.

The two main Asian brands, Toyota and Honda still dominate the list as they have for many years. The top seven places include six Asian brands: Scion (a Toyota sub-brand), Acura, Honda, Infiniti, Toyota and Subaru. Porsche comes in at number two to break up that Asian run. All models of all those brands are above average in predicted reliability.

At the bottom of the list in ascending order are: Chrysler, Audi, Mini (a BMW sub-brand), Dodge BMW, Mercedes Benz, GMC and Jeep. Those German luxury brands are used to being much closer to the top. BMW seemed to be plagued by fuel system problems on its turbocharged engines. Audi had almost three-quarters of its models in the below average column.

It’s important to remember that the difference between the best and the worst of these rankings is very small compared to the range 15 years ago. All cars are much better designed and built now and it would be rare to find a really bad product out there. Consumers have been well served by exponential advances in technology triggered by intensified global competition.

I’d not hesitate to buy a new car from any brand on the list – top or bottom.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved