Detroit Hurt in “Total Quality” Study



Porsche, Toyota Top Power Quality by TCC Team (6/12/2006)
IQS ranks German automaker tops, Hyundai brings it on.

Detroit automakers fielded winners in eight of 20 different product segments in the latest Total Quality Study, General Motors matching that perennial benchmark of quality, Toyota.


Yet the latest findings by the California-based research firm, Strategic Vision, should give pause to domestic automakers struggling to regain ground from their import rivals. With one mainstream exception, the American victories were limited to low-volume niches. Worse for Detroit , Asian makers showed surprising strength in the light-truck segments long dominated by the domestics.


A particularly significant indication of this turnaround can be found in the minivan category, noted Dan Gorrell, author of the Total Quality Study, or TQS. Honda’s Odyssey won for the fifth year in a row, “in a segment Chrysler used to always win.”


The simple fact, added Gorrell, is that the “Japanese are attacking the domestics in their truck stronghold,” which doesn’t bode well for American manufacturers heavily dependent on pickups, SUVs, and minivans for the bulk of their profits.


On the flip side, the study suggests that the American brands scan win over motorists with innovative, high-quality products, such as the reborn Dodge Charger, and Saturn’s Vue crossover, both segment winners. Dodge also scored with its Magnum, which stands on its head the conventional industry wisdom that station wagons don’t click with consumers.


The Charger and Magnum, like the sports-car segment winner Chevrolet Corvette Coupe, and Chevy’s HHR, play in relatively low-volume niches. The one strong Detroit entry into a mainstream segment came from Ford — its only segment winner, in fact. The Fusion sedan, Gorrell pointed out, goes up against some of the most compelling imports, such as Honda’s Civic.


“For Detroit to generate a winner in this tough segment,” said Gorrell, “shows…it is headed in the right direction.”


Motor City executives have, in fact, made a high priority out of regaining ground in big passenger-car segments they effectively ceded to the Japanese years ago. And there are other signs of success. Though it did not capture a segment, Gorrell declared Chrysler’s boldly designed 300 sedan “a winner.”


Unfortunately, some other recent Detroit entries didn’t fare all that well, including the recently redesigned Chevy Impala, the Ford Five Hundred, as well as the new Buick Lucerne, a sedan upon which GM’s Buick division has placed high hopes.


In the traditional truck segments, Detroit had only one winner, Chevrolet’s big 2500/3500 heavy-duty pickup. Yet even though domestics, including Chevy, dominate the sales charts in the pickup segment, GM’s full-size trucks scored below average in the TQS, which is designed to measure factors including “things gone wrong” with a vehicle, as well as factors that please consumers — what might be described as “things gone right.”


Gorrell cautioned that his study did not include a string of well-reviewed, recent truck entries from GM, including its redesigned GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade SUVs. There is reason to believe that they could fare better in the 2007 Total Quality Study.


Some findings in the ’06 TQS echo the latest Initial Quality Study from J.D. Power & Associates, the best-known of the automotive market research firms. Hyundai showed significant strength in Strategic Vision’s research, though it didn’t match its third-place finish in the IQS.


One area where the two studies clash is over the subject of BMW. Power’s data showed the popular German marque down in the bottom third of 37 brands. Strategic Vision, on the other hand, reported BMW above Lexus, Toyota ’s top-rated luxury brand. The Power analysis, said Gorrell, was “quite puzzling,” and seemed to over-emphasize admittedly controversial issues, such as the German maker’s challenging iDrive control system.


The TQS also found that another German brand, troubled Volkswagen, has “started to regain its mojo.” VW scored above industry average in the study, but below average in Power’s IQS.


The challenge for brands like VW is similar to that facing Detroit , concluded Gorrell, “regaining the trust of the American buyer, which has been lost over (the) years.”


Category winners and ratings

Small Car Honda Civic 871

Small Multi-Function (MFV) Chevrolet HHR 865

Medium Car Ford Fusion 884

Large Car Dodge Charger 906

Near-Luxury Car Lexus IS 919

Luxury Car BMW 7-Series 928

Small Specialty less than $25,000 Mini Cooper 909

Small Specialty greater than $25,000 Chevrolet Corvette(a) 908

Convertible less than $30,000 Mini Cooper Convertible(a) 896

Convertible greater than $30,000 Chevrolet Corvette 912

Minivan Honda Odyssey(a) 876

Small SUV Saturn Vue 870

Medium Crossover Dodge Magnum 880

Medium SUV Toyota 4Runner 878

Large SUV Nissan Armada(a) 907

Near-Luxury SUV Lexus RX 350/400h 904

Luxury SUV Land Rover Range Rover Sport 910

Compact Pickup Toyota Tacoma(a) 849

Large Pickup Honda Ridgeline 885

Heavy Duty Pickup Chevrolet Silverado 2500/3500 870

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