AUTO INDUSTRY Study: Lexus tops list for durability



GM ranks best among Big Three automakers.
DETROIT (AP) -- Lexus maintained its top spot for the ninth year in dependability rankings, according to an annual study by market researcher J.D. Power and Associates.
Lexus, the luxury division of Toyota Motor Corp., was followed by Nissan Motor Co.'s Infiniti brand, General Motors Corp.'s Buick nameplate, Porsche AG and Honda Motor Co.'s Acura label.
GM was the only one of Detroit's Big Three automakers to score better than the industry average of 273 problems per 100 vehicles.
"The Lexus brand has become one of the bulletproof brands out there," said Mike Wall, an industry analyst with CSM Worldwide. "In terms of quality, efficiency and overall manufacturing, I think Toyota's been head and shoulders above the rest."
Basis of study
The closely watched study is based on responses from more than 55,000 original owners of 2000 model-year cars and light trucks. For the first time, J.D. Power reviewed models at three years of ownership instead of four to five years to better support manufacturers' efforts to improve next-generation replacement models.
Because of the change, 2003 results are not directly comparable to previous studies.
Some of the most common problems in the new survey were excessive brake wear, wind noise and the replacement of components not called for under the normal maintenance schedule.
"Conventional wisdom said that dependability was the property of the Japanese and Europeans," said Joe Ivers, executive director of quality/customer satisfaction at J.D. Power. "While it's still true for automakers like Toyota and Honda, it's no longer the case for many Europeans."
Ivers noted that while Porsche, Jaguar, Saab and BMW scored above the industry average for dependability, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo were well below the standard.
A big gap
J.D. Power said Mercedes-Benz had the largest gap between initial quality and long-term quality measurements.
In fact, DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler, Dodge and now-defunct Plymouth brands all scored higher than Mercedes-Benz in the 2003 study. Wall said Mercedes-Benz's score was partly attributable to problems with its M-Class sport utility vehicle.
Among manufacturers overall, Porsche Cars North America topped the list with 193 problems per 100 vehicles, followed by Toyota Motor Sales USA (196), American Honda (215), Nissan North America (258) and BMW of North America (262).
GM was next with 264 problems per 100 vehicles. This spring, GM began a national advertising campaign acknowledging previous quality lapses to underscore progress it's made in recent years.
Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln brand outranked Honda in the survey, and its Mercury brand also scored above the industry average. But the Ford brand itself had 22 more problems per 100 vehicles than the average, dragging down the company as a whole.
Ford Motor had 287 problems per 100 vehicles -- 14 more than the industry average -- followed by DaimlerChrysler with 311.

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