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AUTOS

Ford Motor receives a lift from survey of customer satisfaction

June 07, 2007|Martin Zimmerman | Times Staff Writer

At Ford Motor Co., it might be time to dust off those old Quality is Job 1 commercials.

Ford brands racked up four "best in show" awards in an influential vehicle quality survey released Wednesday.

The Ford Mustang took top honors in the mid-size sports car category of J.D. Power & Associates' annual survey of new-vehicle quality. Ford's Lincoln MKZ was tops among entry-level premium cars and the Lincoln Mark LT finished first among large luxury SUVs. Another Ford product, the Mercury Milan, was first in the highly competitive mid-size car category.

In the 19 categories in the Power survey, 12 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles placed among the top three finishers. That ranked second only to Toyota Motor Corp.'s 13, which included the Japanese automaker's Scion and Lexus brands.

And among nonluxury brands, Ford moved up to fourth place, from eighth place last year, in terms of fewest reported problems per 100 vehicles. Mercury was third among nonpremium brands and Lincoln finished third overall.

Honda Motor Co.'s flagship Honda line placed first among nonluxury brands in fewest problems, and its popular Civic captured top honors in the important compact car category.

As for Toyota -- which has been plagued by a series of embarrassing recalls in recent years -- it fell behind Honda in the quality rankings as its problems-per-100-vehicles for its core brand rose from 106 to 112.

Toyota tied Ford with four first-place finishes, a drop from 11 in 2006.

The Power report is based on responses from more than 97,000 owners of new 2007 cars and trucks surveyed after 90 days of purchase or lease.

Toyota executives downplayed the results, contending that the company's focus is on long-term customer satisfaction and repeat buyers.

"The 90-day experience doesn't really tell the whole story," said Irv Miller, group vice president of Torrance-based Toyota Motor Sales USA. "It's a competitive market. One or two small issues can create very large changes in rankings."

Indeed, Toyota and Honda dominated Consumer Reports' recent report on long-term owner satisfaction.

But Toyota -- which earlier this year passed General Motors Corp. for the lead in worldwide sales -- has had quality problems with some high-profile vehicles, including its Prius hybrid and redesigned Tundra pickup. Analysts have blamed the automaker's rapid expansion.

Power noted that industry-wide, new-vehicle quality had improved dramatically. These days, buyer complaints tend to focus more on design issues, such as the placement of instruments and switches, than on manufacturing defects.

For all that, initial quality "is still an important factor in the industry," said Neal Oddes, director of product research and analysis at Westlake Village-based Power. "What we've seen over the last couple of years is that if they do well in [the initial quality survey], it generally translates into long-term durability as well."

Whether Ford's high marks will translate into higher sales remains to be seen.

"If you have good quality vehicles, the likelihood of someone recommending your brand to someone else increases, and that could have a positive effect for the manufacturer," Oddes said. He noted that Ford scored well with new vehicles such as its Edge crossover -- notable because new vehicles often have teething problems.

Ford's showing in the mid-size car category -- the biggest and most competitive division -- was impressive, he said. Not only did the Mercury Milan rank No. 1 ahead of such rivals as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, the Ford Fusion tied for third place.

For the second straight year, German luxury automaker Porsche led all car companies with the fewest number of reported problems, followed by Lexus and Lincoln.

Mercedes-Benz, which fared poorly in the Consumer Reports quality survey earlier this year, mounted a strong comeback in the Power report, moving up 20 places in the overall quality rankings -- the most of any brand.

Oddes credited Mercedes' "dramatic improvement" to its newly redesigned S-class.

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martin.zimmerman@latimes.com

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Begin text of infobox

Best in their class

Here is the 2007 Initial Quality Study by J.D. Power.

*--* Category Make/model Sub-compact Kia Rio/Rio5 Compact Honda Civic Compact sporty Mazda MX-5 Miata Compact premium sporty Porsche Boxster Entry premium Lincoln MKZ Mid-size Mercedes-Benz premium E-Class Large premium (tie) Audi A8 and Mercedes-Benz S-Class Premium sporty Mercedes-Benz SL-Class Mid-size sporty Ford Mustang Mid-size Mercury Milan Large Pontiac Grand Prix Compact SUV Honda CR-V Mid-size SUV Toyota 4Runner Large SUV Toyota Sequoia Mid-size Lexus RX 350/ premium SUV RX 400h Large premium SUV Lincoln Mark LT Large pickup Chevrolet Silverado Classic Mid-size pickup Toyota Tacoma Van Chevrolet Express

*--*

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Source: J.D. Power & Associates

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