DETROIT - Four years out of bankruptcy reorganization, General Motors has risen dramatically up the ranks of one of the auto industry's closest-watched measures of vehicle quality.
One GM label, its GMC truck brand, jumped to No. 2 among all brands - just behind Porsche - for fewest new vehicle problems in the 2013 J.D. Power and Associates' Initial Quality Survey. Chevrolet rose to fifth in the annual quality ranking, and GM's other two brands, Cadillac and Buick, both beat the industry average.
GM's Chevrolet brand also captured five of the 26 top awards for individual models with best quality in the rankings for various car and truck market segments by size, type and price.
"GM has the best quality of any corporation in industry," says Dave Sargent, J.D. Power's vice president of global automotive. It shows how fast a company with a flawed quality reputation can turn things around. "People were alleging their quality was so bad they deserved to go out of business."
Says Tony DiSalle, VP of marketing for GMC: "Perfecting the customer experience is everything to the GMC brand, from the first visit to the dealership, or drive home, or 10 years down the road. This study demonstrates that the brand is following through on its commitment to quality."
Porsche, of course, was proud to beat them all. "Porsche stands for sportiness and performance," said Matthias Müller, CEO of Porsche AG. "We are pleased to see that our equally high levels of quality in design, development and production have also been confirmed with these awards."
While losing the top spot to Porsche, GMC even beat Toyota's luxury brand Lexus, a perennial top dog in the quality rankings. The namesake Toyota brand, meanwhile, placed a respectable seventh. But in one of the biggest surprises in this year's ranking, Toyota's youth oriented Sicon sank to dead last among brands on sale in the U.S.
Toyota spokesman Mike Michels says the differing results for Lexus and Scion appear to be totally separate issues. On Lexus, he says the brand appeared to skirt the technology issues that dogged others by deployments of a technology specialist and a delivery specialist at every dealership. The former troubleshoots technology issue, like phone pairing, while the latter explains all the high-tech features of the cars to customers.
He says Scion's score was pulled down by out-of-the-gate problems on the FR-S sports car (sibling to the BRZ sold by Subaru). Michels says owners complained about an engine stalling problem and condensation inside the taillights, issues that have since been solved. Plus, the car doesn't have a lot of storage space or cupholders, he says.
The survey, conducted from Feb. through May, tracks owner complaints about problems in manufacture or design in the first 90 days of ownership.
And it carries huge influence: Ford which fell in 2011, 2012 and again this year -- much due to dissatisfaction with its high-tech MyFord Touch infotainment systems -- fired a preemptive strike on Monday by announcing that it will add low-tech knobs to its the confusing electronic touch controls. The Ford brand is in the bottom third, although its premium Lincoln brand was slightly above the industry average.
For the survey's 27th year, J.D. Power has shaken up its process to put a greater emphasis on design problems, not just manufacturing goofs. The ratings company says two thirds of complaints about cars in the first 90 days of ownership are related to design. As a result, only 9% of those problems are presented to dealers for solutions, compared to 28% who take back their cars for a repair.
J.D. Power's new system, which now uses online responses to get more detailed and immediate information, in recent years also has tended to tar automakers on high-tech issues where buyers find complicated systems, such infotainment or navigation, hard to figure out or cumbersome to use Sergeant says.
That could be helping automakers such as GM, which has emphasized ease-of-use in rolling out advanced touchscreen infotainment systems, while punishing others, such as Ford, which have rolled out gee-whiz technology across their lines.
GMC's second-place finish includes its 2013 model-year pickup trucks that are being replaced now by an all-new 2014 model. GM has had years to work the kinks out of its current-generation pickups, reducing its flaws.
Sargent, however, says the GM has had a philosophy change and no longer rolls out new models with quirks that it knows will need fixing. Now it is building in quality from the start.
When it came individual models, however, GM's Chevrolet was the clear winner with model segment wins or ties with its Avalanche, Camaro, Impala, Silverado HD and Tahoe. Next in the model wins came Honda, Kia, Mazda and Porsche, each with two vehicles.
J.D. Power's Top 3 Cars by type
In order by fewest problems per 100 vehicles (fewer than three means no others beat the segment average):
- City Car: Smart Fortwo, Chevrolet Spark
- Subcompact car: Mazda2, Hyundai Accent, Honda Fit
- Compact car: Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Honda Insight
- Compact Sporty Car: Mazda MX-5 Miata, Volkswagen Eos, VW GTI
- Compact Premium Car: Acura TL, Inifiniti G, Cadillac CTS
- Compact Premium Sporty Car: Porsche Boxster, Nissan Z, BMW Z4
- Midsize car: Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Buick Regal
- Midsize Sporty Car: Chevrolet Camaro (tie), Ford Mustang (tie)
- Midsize Premium Car: Hyundai Genesis sedan, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Jaguar XF (tie), Lexus GS (tie)
- Midsize Premium Sporty Car: Porsche 911
- Large Car: Chevrolet Impala, Hyundai Azera, Chrysler 300
- Large Premium Car: Lexus LS, Audi A8, Porsche Panamera
Top 3 Crossovers, Vans, Trucks
- Sub-compact CUV: Buick Encore (tie), Kia Sportage (tie), Nissan Juke
- Compact CUV: Honda CR-V, Toyota FJ Cruiser, Chevrolet Equinox
- Compact Premium CUV: Mercedes-Benz GLK, Audi Allroad, Acura RDX
- Compact Multipurpose Vehicle: Kia Soul, Mazda5
- Midsize CUV: Nissan Murano, Buick Enclave, Hyundai Santa Fe
- Midsize Premium CUV: Infiniti FX, Lexus GX, Porsche Cayenne
- Minivan: Chrysler Town & Country, Honda Odyssey
- Large CUV: Chevrolet Tahoe, Toyota Sequoia
- Large Premium CUV: Cadillac Escallade, Mercedes-Benz GL Class
- Large Light-Duty Pickup: Chevrolet Avalanche (tie), GMC Sierra (tie), Chevrolet Silverado
- Large Heavy-Duty Pickup: Chevrolet Silverado HD, GMC Sierra HD
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)