Toyota and General Motors have snared 15 of the 18 top model segment awards in the latest JD Power and Associates (JDP) Initial Quality Study.

Toyota took 10 of the top model segment awards, with the Lexus SC430 coupe/cabriolet named the highest-ranking model for the second consecutive year, at 54 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100). Other Toyota models earning segment awards include the Prius hybrid (Compact Car), Scion tC (Sporty Car) and RAV4 (Entry SUV).

General Motors achieved five top model segment awards, including those for the Chevrolet Malibu/Malibu Maxx (Entry Midsize Car), Buick Century (Premium Midsize Car) and Chevrolet Suburban (Full-Size SUV).

"The 2005 IQS results contain some genuinely good news for General Motors," said Chance Parker, JDP's executive director of product and research analysis. "The improvements of the quality of several models and at their North American plants are both very positive signs."

Ford took just two model awards, with the Explorer Sport Trac (Midsize Pickup) and F-150 LD (Full-Size Pickup) ranking highest in their respective segments.

Assembly plants

General Motors swept the North/South America plant quality awards. Its Oshawa #2, Ontario, Canada, plant, which produces the Buick Century, LaCrosse and Pontiac Grand Prix, took the Gold Plant Quality Award. The Oshawa #1, Ontario, and Hamtramck, Michigan, plants earned Silver and Bronze Plant Quality awards, respectively.

For the fourth consecutive year, Toyota's Tahara, Japan, car plant received the Platinum Plant Quality Award for worldwide plant quality with a score of 59 PP100. Tahara produces the Lexus GS 300/GS 430 and the LS 430. Toyota's Higashi-Fuji, Japan, plant and Nissan's Tochigi, Japan, facility earned the Silver and Bronze Plant Quality awards, respectively, among Asia Pacific plants.

Among European plants, Ford's Jaguar factory in Halewood, Liverpool, UK (X-type and soon to make the redesigned Land Rover Freelander small SUV), received the Gold Plant Quality Award. BMW's Regensburg, Germany, plant earned the Silver Plant Quality Award while the automaker's Munich and Porsche's Stuttgart plants tied for the Bronze Plant Quality Award.

Marked improvement

The study showed that a number of makes and models demonstrated marked improvements from the 2004 study. Chief among them was GM's Hummer, with a 36% reduction in reported problems. Since its debut in the 2003 IQS, the maker of huge SUVs has reduced reported problems by 115 PP100.

"In the past, there was a lot of talk about Hummer's poor quality being related to poor fuel economy," notedParker. "This year's results clearly show that the people [there] knew this wasn't the case. They identified many customer-reported problems and solved them."

Nissan also performed dramatically better in the 2005 study, with the Quest minivan as the most-improved model, recording an impressive 104 PP100 improvement. Other models showing notable improvements were the Kia Spectra (64 PP100 improvement), the Hummer H2 (63 PP100 improvement), and the Scion xA (62 PP100 improvement).

Overall, the automotive industry showed only a minor increase in industry-wide initial quality in 2005. After totting up an 11% quality improvement from 2003 to 2004, the overall industry average has improved only one PP100 in 2005 to 118 PP100.

"Competition in the automotive industry is incredibly intense," said Parker. "Even though the 2005 results may suggest a plateau in quality, manufacturers should not become complacent. The IQS has tracked similar apparent 'plateaus' before in 1996 and 2003. In both cases, the following year's results showed dramatic quality improvements. Car companies that take their eye off the ball risk being left behind."

Manufacturers demonstrated overall improvement in more than one-half of the 135 problem symptoms included in the study, compared to 2004. Among the nine problem categories surveyed, ride/handling/braking and exterior problems continued to cause the greatest challenge to manufacturers. Consumers reported that the transmission causes the least number of problems.

IQS measures 135 attributes across nine categories.

The 2005 study was based on responses from around 62,000 US purchasers and lessees of new 2005 model-year cars and trucks, who were surveyed after 90 days of ownership.

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