Domestic brands have passed import nameplates in a United States JD Power (JDP) initial quality survey for the first time in the survey’s 24-year history. The company said initial quality had improved considerably, led by new entries from Ford, Honda, Lexus , Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.

Overall, the industry average for initial quality is 109 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) in 2010, increasing slightly from 108 PP100 in 2009. However, initial quality for domestic brands as a whole has improved by 4 PP100 in 2010 to an average of 108 PP100—slightly better than the initial quality of import brands, which averages 109 PP100 in 2010.

Substantial improvements by many domestic models – including the Ford Focus, [Chrysler group] Ram 1500 LD and Buick Enclave – helped boost the overall improvement of domestic automakers in 2010.

“In particular, initial quality of Ford models has improved steadily for the past nine years,” JDP said. “In addition, as a corporation, Ford (including Volvo ) has 12 models that rank within the top three in their respective segments in 2010 – more than any other corporation. General Motors has 10 models that rank within the top three in their segments.”

JDP said consumer sentiment had changed compared with the same survey a year ago.

“Between May and July 2009, much of the online consumer discussion about automotive quality centred around the difficulties US automakers were facing, and perceptions that these problems were largely caused by poor product quality.

“Domestic automakers have made impressive strides in steadily improving vehicle quality, particularly since 2007,” said global research chief David Sargent. “This year may mark a key turning point for US brands as they continue to fight the battle against lingering negative perceptions of their quality. However, there is still a long road ahead, and domestic manufacturers need to consistently prove to consumers that they can produce models with quality that equals or beats that of the import brands.”

Initial quality of new models and major redesigns continued to improve in 2010, led by new launches from Ford, Honda, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.

The Honda Accord Crosstour and the redesigned Ford Mustang, Ford Taurus and Lexus GX 460 each ranked highest in initial quality in their respective segments. The Ford Fusion, Mercedes-Benz E-Class coupe and sedan and Porsche Panamera also launched with notably high initial quality levels.

Historically, newly launched models have incurred substantially more quality problems than carryover models, on average, JDP said, adding that over half of all models launched during the 2010 model year performed better than their respective segment averages. Another 12 all-new and redesigned models ranked within the top three in their respective segments. Meanwhile, initial quality of carryover and freshened models declined for the 2010 model year.

Porsche led the overall nameplate rankings, averaging 83 PP100, followed by Honda’s Acura (up from 14th to second), Mercedes-Benz (sixth to third), Lexus and Ford (in the top five for the first time since the study began). MINI posted the largest improvement in 2010, reducing problems by 32 PP100 from 2009.

Toyota ’s problem count increased by 16 PP100, moving it from sixth in 2009 to 21st in 2010.

“Clearly, Toyota has endured a difficult year,” said Sargent. “Recent consumer concerns regarding Toyota’s quality are reflected in the nameplate’s performance in the 2010 study. That said, Toyota’s success was built on a well-deserved reputation for quality, and there is little doubt that they will do everything possible to regain that reputation.”

The Daimler assembly plant in East London, South Africa, received a platinum quality award for producing vehicles yielding the fewest defects and malfunctions. The plant, which averages just 28 PP100, builds the Mercedes-Benz C-class sold in North America.

Among North and South American plants, the Toyota plant in Cambridge South, Ontario, Canada, which produces the Lexus RX, achieved gold and, in the Asia Pacific region, Toyota’s Kyushu 2, Japan, plant, which produces the Lexus ES,
IS and RX, also won gold.