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Initial quality improves 10%, largest 1-year jump since 1997

November 24, 2010
Thunderbird tops its segment in debut year

In a market of ever-increasing quality expectations by consumers, the automotive industry improved initial quality by 10 percent over 2001, according to a recent J.D. Power and Associates study. It marked the industry's largest quality improvement since 1997. "This kind of improvement in quality doesn't happen by accident," said Brian Walters of J.D. Power, reflecting on the 2002 Initial Quality Study.

"It takes a concerted effort by the designers, engineers and assembly line workers of both manufacturers and their suppliers. "Initial quality is an important driver to customer satisfaction with the ownership experience and has farreaching impact on brand reputation." Toyota Motor Sales models virtually swept the seven truck segments, with the exception of the full-size SUV category, which is led by the Ford Expedition.

"With truck sales now surpassing 50 percent of the lightvehicle market, truck quality is critical to automakers. Toyota's consistency in building truck models with high initial quality certainly gives them an advantage," said Walters. Of the 16 segments in the study, Toyota and Lexus models lead nine segments, the most earned by a corporation in the 2002 study.

General Motors Corporation is the best-performing domestic manufacturer in the study, with four models earning top rankings, including the competitive premium midsize car segment. Ford Motor Co., which includes Mazda, is tops in three segments. In addition to having a number of models topping segments in initial quality, Toyota Motor Sales and GM both demonstrated above-average increases in quality, improving by 31 percent and 30 percent over five years, respectively. Korean manufacturers Kia and Hyundai are the most improved corporations in the J.D. Power 2002 study, improving by 21 percent and 19 percent, respectively, over 2001.

Hyundai Motor America has demonstrated the largest five-year initial quality improvement, at 42 percent. Other above-average five-year quality improvements include American Isuzu (39 percent), Mitsubishi Motor Sales (38 percent), and DaimlerChrysler (27 percent). "Consumers have come to expect that the initial quality of their new vehicle will exceed that of their previous vehicle," Walters said. "If a manufacturer is not continuously improving its quality at a rate that meets or exceeds the industry average, it could be losing a quality edge to its competitors." At the model level, the Chevrolet Malibu made the biggest quality gain over the past five years, improving 58 percent.

Next, improving by 49 percent, are the Buick Century, the Chevrolet Corvette and the Lexus GS Sedan. Historically, it is unusual for an all-new model to top its segment in initial quality. However, the Ford Thunderbird debuts with an impressive top ranking in the competitive entry luxury segment. The T-bird is Ford's best-performing initial quality model in 2002. No European manufacturer gained top honors in a segment