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Quality of '97 Models Jumps, Survey Says

Autos: High-volume cars made some of the biggest gains in the J.D. Power report.

May 01, 1997|From Associated Press

Auto makers dramatically improved the quality of their new cars and trucks in the 1997 model year, according to the latest survey of buyers by J.D. Power & Associates.

Once again, Japanese models dominated the list of the highest-ranking cars and light trucks. But the market research firm said Wednesday that there were major gains industrywide.

The firm surveyed 43,752 owners of 1997 vehicles after three months of ownership, asking them to detail defects and other problems with their new car or truck in 89 areas.

The average number of problems per 100 vehicles dropped to a record low of 86, down 22% from 110 for the 1996 model year--the largest drop since J.D. Power began the survey a decade ago.

Among cars, the average number of problems per 100 vehicles fell to 81 from 100; for trucks, it plummeted to 92 from 123. It was the first time that all three averages fell below 100, or less than one problem per vehicle.

"While there have been incremental improvements in vehicle quality over the past 10 years, the 1997 results reveal that the automobile industry is providing far superior quality than ever before," said Stephen C. Goodall, president of J.D. Power in Agoura Hills.

The biggest gains were among some of the highest-volume cars. Typically, the top scores are posted by high-priced luxury cars that are produced in relatively low numbers.

J.D. Power also said the quality gap between cars and light trucks largely vanished in 1997 because of big gains in the new crop of pickups and mid-size sport utility vehicles. Ford's redesigned F-series pickups, for example, scored 64 problems per 100 units, compared with 114 for the 1996 model.

But significantly poorer scores still exist within other segments of the truck market, such as minivans and small and large sport utilities, Parker said.

The firm releases only the top three ranking vehicles in each of 11 car and truck categories.

Among the 33 top-ranking vehicles, 24 have Japanese nameplates and nine are Big Three products. Some of the Japanese models, such as the Honda Civic and Accord and Nissan pickup, are made in the United States. No European vehicles made the list.

Toyota had the most top-ranked vehicles, with 11, followed by Honda (seven), General Motors (six), Nissan (five), Ford (three) and Chrysler (one).

In recent years, the Big Three have noted their improving scores while disputing the significance of their lower overall ranking compared with the Japanese. They say the differences have become statistically insignificant.

"This study continues to confirm that quality is no longer a major discriminator and that key satisfaction factors . . . are now such things as styling, features, safety, price and the dealer showroom and service experience," said Ron Haas, GM vice president of quality.

Parker said the origin of the vehicle is less significant today than it was years ago.

He noted that quality scores vary more model by model--most auto makers have some that score high and others that rank low.

J.D. Power sells its survey information to auto makers and others in the industry. Manufacturers use the information in advertising and in comparisons with their own quality and customer-satisfaction measures.

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