Lexus ranks highest in long-term dependability for the eighth consecutive year and Japanese brands occupy the top five spots in the J.D. Power and Associates 2002 Vehicle Dependability Index (VDI) Study for 4-5 year old models released on Thursday.

Infiniti, Acura, Honda and Toyota follow Lexus, respectively in the top five.

The study finds that at 159 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100), the average four- to five-year-old Lexus has fewer problems than the average 1998 model-year vehicle did when it was new (176 PP100).

Lexus owners report the smallest increase in problems of any nameplate, as measured at 90 days of ownership to the four- to five-year mark.

“Lexus vehicles certainly benefit from their consistency in long-term dependability,” said Brian Walters, director of product research at J.D. Power and Associates. “VDI measures vehicle problems at a critical stage, when many owners are considering replacing their vehicles. The perception of strong long-term dependability can translate into both high resale value and strong owner loyalty to the nameplate. More than one-half of new-vehicle buyers indicate that long-term durability is an important consideration when choosing which make of vehicle to purchase.”

Among the 15 nameplates scoring above industry average in the 2002 VDI, eight are Japanese brands (Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, Honda, Toyota, Subaru, Nissan and Mazda); four are domestic (Buick, Cadillac, Lincoln and Mercury); and three are European (Porsche, Jaguar and BMW).

Jaguar’s relatively good rating reflects huge efforts by owner Ford to improve the quality of a brand once a byword in its class for unreliability while the absence of Mercedes-Benz reflects growing world-wide concern that ‘Benz’ quality is not what it once was.

Indeed, one veteran US motor industry commentator this week suggested DaimlerChrysler devote less resource to extending the loss-making SMART brand into markets such as the US and more on reviving Mercedes-Benz’s once peerless reputation for quality and durability.

According to J.D. Power, the motor industry has improved vehicle dependability by 27 PP100 in 2002 — a 7% increase over 2001.

Interestingly, industry-level new-vehicle quality, as measured by the J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study (IQS), has also shown an annual average improvement of just under 7% over the past four years.

“Six of the top 10 problems in VDI are also among the problem symptoms that have experienced the greatest deterioration between IQS and VDI, suggesting that many of the vehicle quality issues that arise early in the ownership period not only persist, but worsen with time and mileage,” said Walters. “For most problems measured in IQS and VDI, the opportunity for product improvement occurs in the design and engineering phases of future model replacements.”

The Vehicle Dependability Index Study, now in its 13th year, is based this year on survey responses from more than 30,000 original owners of 1998 model-year vehicles. The study monitors the number and type of problems owners have with their four- to five-year-old vehicles and covers 137 specific problem areas in nine categories.

According to J.D. Power, this is how the top 15 brands rated in number of problems per 100 vehicles:

Lexus 159,
Infiniti 194,
Acura 228,
Honda 251,
Toyota 276,
Porsche 278,
Buick 279,
Cadillac 280,
Jaguar 280,
BMW 281,
Lincoln 282,
Mercury 287,
Subaru 314,
Nissan 321,
Mazda 337,
(Industry average 355)