In a first for the brand, Hyundai has produced the most leaders on Strategic Vision’s Total Quality Index (TQI), leading in three segments.

Nissan was the only other brand to produce three leaders in the 2007 index compiled by the San-Diego-based research firm based on the ratings of new vehicle owners in 19 product segments.

The Hyundai group had a total of five leaders (KIA had two), Ford and the BMW group each earned three (one for BMW, two for MINI); GM, Honda, and Mercedes each earned two and Dodge, Lexus and Volkswagen each earned one.

BMW repeated as the top scoring brand, the eighth time in nine years, and Volkswagen of America kept its claim as the best full-line corporation.

The Total Quality Index asks buyers to rate all aspects of the ownership experience, from buying and owning to driving. Although Toyota improved overall with their TQI scores, the most significant change in 2007 was the lack of any Toyota brand segment leaders.

Examining the number of problems or things-gone-wrong per vehicle (the traditional definition of quality), Toyota and Lexus are still among the best, the survey found. However, Toyota’s lead in this narrower definition of quality is now shared with other brands like Honda, Hyundai, Infiniti and domestic brands such as Ford. For example, the Ford Expedition EL enjoyed a very large lead and had fewest problems in the segment.

“With automotive corporations now doing a terrific job in providing vehicles with minimal problems, the cues of quality (those product attributes that signal quality and create customer trust) have a greater impact on the purchase decision. Perceived quality has the power to change customer’s perceptions of a vehicle from being ‘interesting’ to eventually considered and purchased,” said the research firm’s president Alexander Edwards.

“In the past, one could count the number of problems per vehicle; but for automotive customers today and tomorrow, a comprehensive and integrated perception of the ownership experience will be what drives the decision making process.”

“Unlike last year, we’re seeing many new or redesigned vehicles not ranking near the top of their segments.“ added Alexander. “These vehicles typically have the potential to deliver more rational and emotional elements which are relevant to buyers. Although the Honda Fit [Jazz], Nissan Versa [Tiida] and Toyota Yaris all did well, they did not hit the same emotional cord which resounded in the DNA of the Volkswagen Rabbit [Golf] buyers.”

Responses from about 27,000 buyers who bought 2007 models in September, October and November 2006 were used to calculate the Total Quality Index which Strategic Vision has compiled annually since 1995.