Scoring with reliability

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"Success is not something to wait for; it's something to work for." --Anonymous


It‘s been a fact of life for decades now: U.S. automakers getting readily beaten up by their Japanese counterparts in reliability and durability ratings. Toyota, especially, proved itself to be the heavyweight champ, with its solid Camry sedan taking the top slot hands down year in and year out.

Until now, that is.

According to Consumer Reports‘ 2007 Annual Car Reliability Survey, after years of sterling reliability, Toyota is showing cracks in its armor. The V6 version of the company's top-selling Camry, and the four-wheel-drive V8 version of the Tundra pickup, both redesigned for 2007, now rate below average in Consumer Reports‘ predicted reliability rating. In addition, the all-wheel-drive version of the Lexus GS sedan also received a below average rating.

By contrast, said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports‘ Auto Test Center, Ford Motor Co.‘s domestic brands have made considerable improvements - in fact, 41 of 44 Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury models (a whopping 93%!!!!) in the magazine‘s survey scored average or better in predicted reliability. The Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan are among the most reliable cars and, along with the two-wheel-drive Ford F-150 V6 make up three of the only four domestic models on Consumer Reports‘ “Most Reliable” list.

CR‘s 2007 survey also shows that the odds of getting a reliable new vehicle from Ford are the best the magazine has seen in years, says Champion. “Ford continues to improve,” he noted in the company‘s press release announcing these new statistics. “The reliability of their cars has steadily improved over the years, and is showing consistency.”

Now, despite its sudden problems, Toyota (including Lexus and Scion) still ranks third in reliability among all automakers, behind only Honda and Subaru. Still, because of these findings, CR will no longer recommend any new or redesigned Toyota-built models without reliability data on a specific design. Previously, new and redesigned Toyota models were recommended because of the automaker's excellent track record, even if CR didn‘t have sufficient reliability data on the new model. The company won‘t be doing that anymore until Toyota returns to its previous record of outstanding overall reliability, CR stressed.

This comes on the heels of Buick‘s big win earlier this year on J.D. Power and Associates‘ 2007 Vehicle Dependability Study, where it TIED with Lexus to rank highest among nameplates in vehicle dependability - marking the first time in 12 years that another brand ties with Lexus for the highest-rank position, according to J.D. Power. Following in the top five rankings are Cadillac, Mercury and Honda, respectively, the company said.

“With three non-premium nameplates--Buick, Honda and Mercury--ranking within the top five, and particularly with Buick tying with Lexus for the top rank, consumers seeking a vehicle with strong dependability have good choices at various price levels,” said Neal Oddes, director of product research and analysis for J.D. Power and Associates. “Consumers don‘t necessarily need to pay premium prices to obtain high quality and dependability.”

Now, while these are great achievements, domestic automakers still have a ways to go. Despite Ford‘s improvement, CR‘s research still found that U.S. brands account for almost half the models - some 20 out of 44 - on its list of "Least Reliable" models, with 13 from General Motors, six from Chrysler, and one from Ford. European manufacturers account for 17 models, including six each from Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen/Audi

Yet these reliability ratings achievements deserve some notice - especially as the U.S. companies we used to call the Big 3 not only build many of the light and medium trucks fleets buy, they account for a huge amount of the freight truckers haul, especially in terms of supplying the Big 3‘s U.S. factories.

“Automakers may reap numerous benefits from producing dependable vehicles - not only in higher residual values, decreased warranty costs and opportunities for remarketing their vehicles, but also in higher customer satisfaction and increased likelihood of customers recommending or purchasing newer dependable models,” said J.D. Power‘s Oddes. “This is why it is especially important for automakers to successfully launch new vehicle models with high initial quality and appeal--models that perform well in these regards tend to exhibit particularly strong dependability later in their life cycle.”

So a richly-deserved tip of the hat to the former “Big 3.” Now they must sustain this pace and make churning out more and more highly reliable models like clockwork.

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Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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