Seven of the top 10 passenger vehicle nameplates in initial quality were exclusively import brands, according to the JD Power and Associates 2005 South Africa Initial Quality Study.

The IQS measured of problems experienced during the first three to seven months of ownership based on evaluations by motorists in South Africa. The study examined 315 quality problems across nine categories: ride, handling and braking; features and controls; seats; sound system; heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC); vehicle exterior; vehicle interior; transmission; and engine. All problems were summarised as the number of problems reported per 100 vehicles (PP100), with lower scores indicating a lower rate of problem incidence and therefore better quality.

With 144 PP100, Honda was the highest-ranking passenger vehicle nameplate. Following were Subaru (171), BMW (177), Mercedes-Benz (187) and Hyundai (193), respectively. Rounding out the top 10 passenger vehicle nameplates were Chevrolet, Audi, Toyota, Peugeot and Daihatsu.

The study found the average new-passenger vehicle improved 16 PP100 in 2005, or by 6.3%. This year-over-year improvement was comparable to that experienced in the United States, where the industry improved by an average of 5.5% per year between 1998 and 2005.

Peugeot was the most-improved passenger vehicle nameplate in 2005, improving by 20% (54 PP100) from 2004. Other passenger vehicle nameplates registering significant improvement in 2005 included Nissan (+19%), Chevrolet (+18%), Toyota (+18%) and Mazda (+17%).

Opel was the highest-ranked pickup truck nameplate in initial quality at 291 PP100. Closely following Opel was Toyota (292) and Mitsubishi (293). Other above-average pickup truck nameplates included Ford (313) and Isuzu (318). The vast majority of pickup trucks sold in South Africa [and called 'bakkies'] are made locally.

Each pickup truck nameplate ranked in the 2005 study has improved in initial quality, with the average new pickup truck improving by 10%.

Mitsubishi was most-improved in the segment, improving by more than 20% in 2005. Other pickup truck nameplates making notable improvements included Opel and Nissan, improving by 19% and 15%, respectively.

With regard to plant quality, BMW's Rosslyn plant led other South Africa plants in initial quality for a second consecutive year with 177 PP100. DaimlerChrysler's passenger vehicle plant followed closely with 182 PP100, while Toyota's passenger vehicle plant placed third with 208 PP100.

"Local manufacturers with well-established export programmes, such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz, have plants that rank high in the ratings," said Brian Walters, senior director of automotive research at JD Power and Associates.

"This arises from the significant investments made by these plants to meet global quality standards. [Power] expects this trend to continue as more South African manufacturers join the global supply chain with export models."

Although the average South African-produced vehicle has nearly 23% more problems than the average import vehicle, the gap closed significantly since 2004 when the gap was 43%.

Two Toyota models - the Tazz (upper compact car) and Land Cruiser Prado (medium SUV) - received awards for segment-leading performances in IQS. Other passenger vehicles leading their respective segments in initial quality included the Chevrolet Spark (lower compact), Honda Jazz (lower small car), Mercedes-Benz A-Class (upper small car), BMW 3 Series (medium car) and Subaru Forester (compact SUV). For a second consecutive year, the Honda Jazz had fewer problems than any other model in the industry.

Segment-leading pickup truck models were the Opel Corsa Utility (compact pickup truck), Mitsubishi Colt Single Cab (one-ton single cab pickup truck) and the Mazda Drifter Double Cab (one-ton double cab pickup truck).

The 2005 South Africa Initial Quality Study was based on responses from more than 9,900 new-vehicle owners who purchased their vehicles between December 2004 and April 2005.