If General Motors isn't careful, the Detroit giant might become better known for the reliability of its vehicles than for big trucks and...

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SAN FRANCISCO — If General Motors isn’t careful, the Detroit giant might become better known for the reliability of its vehicles than for big trucks and raw horsepower.

In J.D. Powers’ 2005 Initial Quality Study (IQS), five GM models garnered top honors in their respective categories, with Buick, Cadillac, Hummer and GMC brands all beating the industry average.

“The 2005 IQS results contain some genuinely good news for General Motors,” said J.D. Power analyst Chance Parker. “The improvements of the quality of several models and at their North American plants are both very positive signs.”

The study polled more than 62,000 buyers who were surveyed after owning their car for 90 days. They were asked about problems relating to the ride, handling, braking, transmission and more.

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Accolades like these go a long way in GM’s struggle to shake up the long-standing perception that U.S. cars can’t compete with the Japanese in the reliability arena.

For GM, this bit of marketing fodder comes fast on the heels of similar praise from a lesser-known quality study earlier this week.


Toyota, GM
tops in quality



J.D. Power and Associates yesterday released its annual survey of initial quality for 2005 model-year vehicles, based on questionnaires sent to new-vehicle owners. These are the top performers and runners-up in selected categories:

Compact car:

Winner: Toyota Prius

Runners-up: Kia Spectra, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla

Entry midsize car:

Winner: Chevrolet Malibu/Malibu Maxx.

Runners-up: Hyundai Sonata, Volkswagen Jetta.

Full-size car:

Winner: Buick LeSabre

Runners-up: Mercury Grand Marquis, Ford Five Hundred.

Light-duty full-size pickup:

Winner: Ford F150

Runners-up: Cadillac Escalade EXT, Toyota Tundra.

Full-size sport-utility vehicle:

Winner: Chevrolet Suburban

Runners-up: Chevrolet Tahoe, Toyota

Midsize van:

Winner: Toyota Sienna

Runners-up: Chrysler Town and Country, Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan

Source: J.D. Power and Associates


That particular survey, conducted by Strategic Vision, focused more on the emotional feedback from new-car buyers rather than the problems-per-vehicles gauge used by J.D. Power.


Cars with fewest problems



Here are the top 10 Car buyers were asked about problems relating to the ride, handling, braking and more. The industry average fell to 118 problems per 100 vehicles, down from 119 problems a year ago.

1. Lexus: 81

2. Jaguar: 88

3. BMW: 95

4. Buick: 100

5. Cadillac: 104

6. Mercedes-Benz: 104

7. Toyota: 105

8. Audi: 106

9. Infiniti: 109

10. Hummer: 110

Source: J.D. Power and Associates


As for GM’s big winners, the Chevy Malibu beat out the Hyundai Sonata and Volkswagen Jetta in the entry midsize-car segment while the Buick LeSabre took the top spot among full-size cars.

The Buick Century fared the best of an all-GM trio of premium midsize cars, with the Chevy Impala and Pontiac Grand Prix tied for second in the category.

In the full-size SUV and heavy-duty pickup segments, a key segment in terms of profits for the automakers, the Chevy Suburban and GMC Sierra took the top spots, respectively.

The Hummer, which has shown dramatic improvement over the past couple years, was also a big winner for GM.

“In the past, there was a lot of talk about Hummer’s poor quality being related to poor fuel economy. This year’s results clearly show that the people at Hummer knew this wasn’t the case,” Parker said. “They identified many customer-reported problems and solved them.”

The Nissan Quest was the most-improved model and the Kia Spectra and Scion also made strides.

But for all GM’s advances, Toyota still reigns supreme with 10 first-place finishers among the 18 categories.

The sporty Lexus SC 430 coupe, which starts at around $65,000, was the highest-ranking model in the survey for the second year in a row, with a rating of 54 problems per 100 vehicles.

To put that number in perspective, Suzuki brands, on average, logged 151 problems per 100 vehicles. Ford’s Land Rover and Mazda came in at 149 each. For the Lexus brand overall, drivers report an average of 81 problems, easily beating out runner-up Jaguar.

As for other notable Toyota wins, the popular hybrid Prius edged out the resurgent Kia Spectra in the compact segment and the Scion ruled the sports-car group, besting the Acura RSX and the redesigned Ford Mustang.

Toyota, and Lexus in particular, impressed in most SUV segments with the GX 470 taking the premium luxury title and the RX 330 surpassing entry-level SUV rivals.

And for the fourth consecutive year, Toyota’s Tahara, Japan plant, which produces the Lexus GS 300, GS 430 and LS 430, turned out the least problematic vehicles globally.

GM made a clean sweep in North/South America plants category with its two Oshawa, Ontario, plants and the Hamtramck, Mich.-plant getting the nod.

Ford, despite a better-than-average showing from its Lincoln and Jaguar brands, ultimately lagged the competition. The Explorer Sport Trac and the top-selling F-150, however, managed to top their segments.

Ford’s Halewood, plant in Britain,, which produces the Jaguar X-Type, produced the fewest problems among European manufacturing facilities.

And the Jaguar, historically maligned for its frequent visits to the repair shop, finished second only to the Lexus brand with 88 problems per vehicle.

Despite some significant moves from General Motors and Nissan along with another stellar showing from Toyota, the industry as a whole only improved slightly.

The industry average fell to 118 problems per vehicle, down from 119 problems a year ago. From 2003 to 2004, J.D. Power found 14 fewer problems per vehicle.

Still, carmakers have become increasingly focused in turning out reliable vehicles over the past decade. For instance, in 1998, the industry average problems per car came in at 176.

“Competition in the automotive industry is incredibly intense. Even though the 2005 results may suggest a plateau in quality, manufacturers should not become complacent,” Parker said. “Car companies that take their eye off the ball risk being left behind.”