Reinforcing the findings of other recent surveys, a survey by US consumer advice organisation Consumer Reports has found that Toyota's reliability has slipped while Ford's has gained.

Consumer Reports' 2007 Annual Car Reliability Survey found that the odds of getting a reliable new vehicle from Ford are the best CR has seen in years. Forty-one of 44 Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury models (93%) in CR's survey scored average or better in predicted reliability. The Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan are among the most reliable cars.

Consumer Reports said that Toyota vehicles' reliability had slipped to the point where its new models can no longer be recommended without owners' feedback.

The magazine had previously recommended Toyota vehicles based simply on the carmaker's excellent track record. Normally, it requires at least one year of reliability data.

By contrast, Consumer Reports praised Ford for 'considerable improvements'.

Ford's Fusion and Mercury Milan saloons and its two-wheel-drive Ford F-150 V6 pickup truck are three of only four domestic models on the magazine's 'most reliable' list this year.

However, several Toyota models were downgraded. 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.

Because Consumer Reports does not recommend models with below-average reliability, these models no longer make CR's "Recommended" list.

The four-cylinder and hybrid versions of the Camry and rear-drive version of the GS scored above average in reliability and will continue to be Recommended.

Despite these problems, Toyota (including Lexus and Scion) still ranks third in reliability among all automakers, behind only Honda and Subaru.

"Ford continues to improve," said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports' Auto Test Center. "The reliability of their cars has steadily improved over the years, and is showing consistency."

He added, "We believe Toyota is aware of its issues and is trying to fix problems quickly."

"Over all, this survey reflects well on our products," said Toyota Motor Sales Executive Vice President Jim Lentz. "However, we're taking measures every day to continue to sharpen quality and enhance customer satisfaction."

The Consumer Reports survey will be welcome news to Ford as it restructures in North America. Although the firm continues to lose market share at home (a consequence of 'rightsizing' and sacrificing unprofitable volume according to Ford), there has been some cheer that the product is at least getting better.

Earlier this year a JD Power initial quality survey also pointed to improved Ford quality in North America alongside a slippage to Toyota's ratings.

Speaking exclusively to just-auto in the spring, Ford's Mark Fields acknowledged that the company's progress on quality in North America would take time to filter through to the market. Ford's NA marketing efforts needed to address a 'perception gap' among consumers, he said.

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