Are Japanese brands more reliable than domestics? Not according to the latest findings. For the 11th consecutive year, Lexus ranked first...

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Are Japanese brands more reliable than domestics? Not according to the latest findings.

For the 11th consecutive year, Lexus ranked first in a major J.D. Power and Associates quality study, but General Motors and Ford were tops in more than half the segments — their best showing ever.

In fact, both GM and Ford had more high-ranked cars and trucks in individual segments than Toyota or Honda, and the Lincoln, Buick and Cadillac brands scored higher overall than Toyota.

The J.D. Power 2005 Vehicle Dependability Study was released yesterday. It’s based on surveys of 50,635 people who bought new vehicles in 2002 and kept them for three years.

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“It was a strong showing for the domestics,” said Chance Parker, executive director of product and research analysis at J.D. Power. “I think over the past several years, the domestics have really gotten religion.”

The Big Three still need more consistency — that is, high quality in every model they build, Parker said. But the survey underscores what some in the industry have said for several years: The so-called gap in quality between the domestics and Japanese brands is largely one of perception.

The results of the influential industry survey were reported by brand and also by segment, such as compact cars, full-size cars and full-size pickups.

Most-dependable vehicles

The vehicles named in their categories are:

Compact car: Chevrolet Prizm

Sporty car: Mazda Miata

Premium sports car: Porsche 911

Entry midsize car: Chevrolet Malibu

Premium midsize car: Buick Century

Full-size car: Buick LeSabre

Entry luxury car: Ford Thunderbird

Mid-luxury car: Lincoln Town Car

Premium luxury car: Lexus LS 430

Entry SUV: Honda CR-V

Midsize SUV: Toyota 4Runner

Full-size SUV: GMC Yukon

Entry luxury SUV: Lexus RX 300

Premium luxury SUV: Lexus LX 470

Midsize van: Ford Windstar

Full-size van: Ford E-Series

Midsize pickup: Chevrolet S-10 pickup

Light-duty full-size pickup: Cadillac Escalade

Heavy-duty full-size pickup: Chevrolet Silverado

Source: J.D. Power & Associates

Overall industry quality rose 12 percent in the long-term study, and Porsche and Hyundai showed the largest increases.

In individual segments, GM and Ford had the top-ranked vehicles in six of nine car categories and six of 10 truck categories.

Lexus, Toyota’s luxury nameplate, was the top-performing brand with 139 problems per 100 vehicles, while Kia was the worst performer with 397 problems. Hyundai showed the most improvement, with 260 problems per vehicle compared with 375 problems in the 2001 model year.

Annette Clayton, GM’s North American vice president for quality, said strategies put in place five years ago to improve quality are paying off. “Our quality is good, it continues to improve and now our customers recognize it.”

Parker said GM’s ranking may surprise some consumers who perceive poor quality at GM because of vehicles made in the past. Clayton said GM recognizes the problem and is working hard to overcome it.

“It takes time, and we have to earn it,” she said.

Several of the survey’s best performers — such as the Buick Century, Chevy Prizm and Ford Windstar — are no longer made. But Clayton and Deborah Coleman, Ford’s vice president of quality, said both companies have systems in place to ensure that future vehicles earn similar ratings.

“These improvements are process-driven more than product-driven,” said Coleman, who added that Ford was particularly proud that the Toyota and Mercury brands had similar ratings.

Parker said the appearance of the Toyota Prius on the list of top performers (it ranked third in the compact-car segment) could help sales of hybrid cars because some consumers may have been wary about the long-term performance of those vehicles.

GM and Toyota also were the best performers in this year’s initial quality survey, which was released last month.

Parker said the initial quality survey typically gets more attention because people are interested in new vehicles. But dependability is extremely important, he said, because good performers will have more loyal customers and lower warranty costs.

“We’re always trying to make sure people understand that while dependability is not as sexy as the initial quality survey, at the end of the day it might be more important,” Parker said.