Consumer Reports Rates Ford and Japanese Brands Highest

October 23, 2008
We reported earlier today about Ford Motor Company's solid reliability ratings in Consumer Reports' 2008 Annual Car Reliability Survey. Says Consumer Reports, "on average, Ford continues to build the most reliable American cars." But the comprehensive test also revealed that reliability of European makes is on the rise and that fuel-efficient vehicles represented with largely superior reliability. These findings and others were presented today at an Automotive Press Association Lunch in Detroit, Michigan.

Again, Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury "continue to pull away from the rest of Detroit," good news that Ford should proudly claim in this hostile market, and hopefully a harbinger of the quality and reliability of its upcoming European-derived models like the 2011 Ford Fiesta. Says CR, "Ford’s reliability is now on par with good Japanese automakers." The Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan sedans, notably sharing production and design with the new Mazda6, rank among the top family cars in reliability, and the new Focus sedan has risen dramatically since its debut in 2000 to now rank as above average.

2008 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG

2008 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG


Long plagued with quality issues, European brands like Mercedes-Benz are finally improving. That automaker’s C-Class, E-Class V-6, and ML350 SUV have improved to average reliability, placing them in Consumer Report’s "recommended" category. Three more Mercedes models made it to the average reliability level. This is in contrast to last year, when Mercedes made no models that even managed an average score.

2009 Audi A4

2009 Audi A4

Even with the improvements, roughly one third of Mercedes’ products have reliability problems, with no models scoring above average. With that storied brand trying to bring diesel back to America, qualms about their reliability doesn't bolster an argument for a fuel the U.S. abandoned in the passenger car market 20-odd years ago. Audi presented a better story, also the purveyor of new diesels for it's '09 lineup, with two-thirds of its fleet scoring average or better, and most of BMW's 3 Series and 5 Series also scoring average or better. A Ford-owned Volvo made strides, leaving only the XC70 wagon rated below average.

Side view of 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid 4dr Sdn w/Nav Silver

Side view of 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid 4dr Sdn w/Nav Silver

As to the excellent reliability of fuel-efficient vehicles, the big story from Consumer Reports is in the gasoline/electric hybrid segment. Hybrid leader Toyota Motor Company scored high with its Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry Hybrid, and Lexus GS450h hybrid sedans, as well as its Lexus RX400h and Toyota Highlander hybrid SUVs. Nissan’s Altima hybrid rated highly in the sedan category, and Ford scored yet another reliability win with its Escape Hybrid/Mercury Mariner Hybrid small SUV twins, which scored above average in predicted reliability. Finally, in the hybrid realm, the Honda Civic Hybrid, with its Integrated Motor Assist, scored above average.

2008 Infiniti EX35

2008 Infiniti EX35

Following the Japanese-heavy solid reliability stories with hybrids and fuel efficient vehicles, Japanese brands in general scored tops in reliability in Consumer Reports’ annual survey, and lead a staggering 15 of 16 categories in the organization's predicted reliability ratings. We’re used to this story from Japanese brands, though some of their newer ventures like the Toyota Tundra, Nissan Titan, Nissan Armada, and Infiniti QX56 SUV have been marked exceptions to their high-quality habits. Last year’s Toyota Camry also had significant reliability problems, but the brand seems to to have these issues on the mend as they did score above average once more in the '08 survey. The Nissan vehicles mentioned "showed striking improvements" with the troubled models gaining average reliability. New products from Nissan such as the Rogue small SUV and the similarly sized Infiniti EX crossover have begun their product cycles with above average reliability, helping Nissan and Infiniti enjoy overall improvements in their rankings versus last year.

South Korean companies Hyundai and Kia also rank highly, scoring about even with the Japanese makers mentioned above. The majority of their models scored at least above average.

2009 Chevrolet Malibu

2009 Chevrolet Malibu

GM models were "a mixed bag," according to Consumer Reports. They spanned the range from above average for the 4-cylinder Chevrolet Malibu, average for the V-6 model of the same vehicle, and above-average ratings for the Buick Lucerne V-8 and four-cylinder Pontiac G6 (cousin to the Chevrolet Malibu). Chevrolet’s Avalanche has moved up to an average ranking, but a solid one-quarter of GM’s models are "still well below average." Sadly, models that performed well in Consumer Reports' testing regimen, such as the Cadillac CTS, Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, and Saturn Outlook, rang in with reliability that was below average.

2008 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

2008 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

But the worst reliability story come from the now Cerberus-owned Chrysler. While the newer platform-mates Dodge Caliber and Jeep Patriot small SUVs made respectable above-average ratings, nearly two-thirds of Chrysler’s products were solidly below average. The Pentastar's bread-and-butter minivans, the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan, which are claimed by many to be perhaps their most valuable products next to the new 2009 Ram pickup, earned low scores from Consumer Reports. Also scoring low for Chrysler were its Jeep Liberty, Dodge Avenger, and Chrysler Sebring V-6. Scoring abysmally low was the Chrysler Sebring Convertible, earning the worst predicted reliability score that was calculated at a whopping 283 percent lower than average--not good numbers for a car company that’s struggling for existence.

It’s a good day when we can report that an American manufacturer like Ford, whose future is at stake just like competitors GM and Chrysler, is at least turning out reliable, well-built cars that can compete on the same ground as the Japanese. Changing consumer opinion is a longer, tougher road, but with large agencies like Consumer Reports lending their support, perhaps the tides will change for Ford, which has recently seen stock prices drop to desperately low 1980s levels, leading some of its largest stockholders like tycoon Kirk Kerkorian to consider the sale of his entire holdings of Ford stock.

Fresher European-sourced products are quickly on the way for Ford, as consumers and the media have long complained about Ford’s decision not to bring the excellent European Focus platform to America. Instead, we persist with the 8-year-old Focus platform spruced up only with styling and sheetmetal changes. If they can keep up the quality story with the new European products that are sized right for the times (and enjoy commensurately smaller consumption), Ford may be poised for a slow but sure comeback as long as the stock market and credit crisis begin a resolution. And that's a big "if."--Colin Mathews

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