Author`s name Alex Naumov

Ford takes most awards in 2007 vehicle quality study

Ford supplanted Toyota as the leader of the pack in initial quality rankings, taking the top spot in five of 19 segments in the 2007 survey by J.D. Power and Associates, released Wednesday.

Porsche again dominated the overall ranking of brands, averaging 91 problems per 100 vehicles, as it had last year. That compared with a 2007 industry average of 125 problems per 100 vehicles. Last year, it was 124.

Ford Motor Co. earned segment awards for the Ford Mustang, Lincoln Mark LT, Lincoln MKZ, Mercury Milan and Mazda MX-5 Miata. Mazda is 33.4 percent owned by Ford.

Toyota Motor Corp., which grabbed the top spot in 11 segments last year, captured only four this year - the 4Runner, Sequoia, Tacoma and Lexus RX350/RX400h.

Ford's Lincoln brand took third in overall nameplate rankings, averaging 100 problems per 100 vehicles. It was behind Porsche and Toyota's Lexus luxury brand, which averaged 94 problems per 100 vehicles.

Lincoln jumped from 12th in 2006.

"We saw dramatic improvement from Lincoln," said Neal Oddes, J.D. Power's director of product research and analysis.

"It was a fantastic year for the Mercury Milan, with dramatic improvements in terms of defects."

Toyota had seen its list of quality leaders decrease in a quality study released Monday by Strategic Vision Inc., a San Diego-based market research company and consultant to automakers. Despite improving its overall quality, Toyota led in one category in that study - down from four in 2006.

South Korean automaker Hyundai Motor Co. led in five categories, outperforming its Japanese, European and American competitors, the AP reports.

GM, the largest U.S. automaker, didn't have any brands in the top 10 this year, after the Detroit-based company's Cadillac and GMC made the 2006 list. GM had two category leaders, the same as last year.

Nissan's Infiniti brand was ninth in the survey, after tying for seventh a year earlier.

“We had five vehicles that all launched right at the time of the IQS survey, which wasn't ideal, but we launch vehicles when they're ready,'' Doug Betts, Nissan's head of North American vehicle quality, said in an interview. “Our warranty data clearly shows that our 2007 models are better than the 2006s.”

Hyundai Motor Co., third last year, dropped from the top 10. Tokyo-based Honda's Acura brand and DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler also fell out, after tying for 10th last year.

“During the survey period we launched five new models, and feel good that we remained at the industry average,'' said Miles Johnson, a U.S. spokesman for Seoul-based Hyundai. The company has teams reviewing the data and ``looking at where improvements can be made,'' he said.

Ford's performance was its best for any year in the survey, Westlake Village, California-based J.D. Power said.

Ford had four models that received the top spot in specific vehicle categories: the Mustang sports car, the Milan and MKZ sedans and the Lincoln Mark LT pickup. Mazda Motor Corp.'s MX-5 Miata also led its category. Mazda is an affiliate of Ford, which owns about one-third of the Hiroshima, Japan-based automaker.

“We decided to work on our products, work on our processes and be consistent all the time,” Bennie Fowler, vice president of global quality at Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford, told reporters after the presentation about the survey.

J.D. Power got responses from more than 97,000 buyers of 2007 cars and light trucks. The survey, along with Consumer Reports' annual vehicle rankings, is among the most influential public quality assessments in the U.S. auto market.

The industry average for problems rose by one from 124 last year, the second straight increase. The 2005 average was 118.

The 2007 survey got input from more respondents so “it's more valid, more reliable,” Neal Oddes, J.D. Power's director of automotive product research and analysis, told reporters at a briefing today sponsored by the Automotive Press Association, Bloomberg reports.

Source: agencies

Prepared by Alexander Timoshik