A Ford Focus at a car dealership in San Jose. The Focus was one of three new… (Associated Press )
After closing the reliability gap with its Japanese competitors in 2010, Ford Motor Co. stumbled badly this year, falling sharply in an annual ranking of vehicles.
Japanese and South Korean brands were the most reliable, followed by U.S. manufacturers and then European autos, Consumer Reports said. The results are published in the magazine's December edition.
Ford fell to 20th among the 28 brands rated by the consumer magazine, an influential guide for car buyers. Last year Ford was 10th.
Three new models, Ford's Focus and Fiesta compact cars and its new Explorer sport utility vehicle, were responsible for the ratings plunge. All had below-average reliability ratings, the magazine said. Consumer Reports uses survey data and analysis from automotive engineers to tally the rankings.
Consumers have complained about problems with the new transmission systems in the Fiesta and the Focus. The automaker was also hurt by glitches with the MyFord Touch information and entertainment system on many of its models.
Similar problems hurt Ford's ranking in another rating of quality this year.
In June, Ford fell to 23rd from fifth place overall in 2010 in J.D. Power & Associates' annual U.S. Initial Quality Study.
"As we said when J.D. Power issued similar results this past summer, we take all customer feedback seriously and will use it to continuously improve our vehicles," Ford said in a statement. "Our internal surveys now show that we are largely back on track after addressing these near-term quality issues."
The problems with the MyFord technology included "freezing up." The user "would have to touch the screen three or four times before it would pick up. The system just did not work properly," said David Champion Sr., director of Consumer Reports' Automotive Test Center in East Haddam, Conn.
Ford has fallen victim to introducing too much technology too fast, Champion said.
"It was a way of trying to get a leg up on the competition, but it wasn't ready for prime time," Champion said.
Consumer Reports typically advises shoppers to hold off from buying a newly designed model during its first year.
The Fiesta, Focus and Explorer are all new models. However, Ford's Fusion midsize sedan, which is nearing the end of its product cycle, continues to get good reliability ratings.
Scion, a Toyota division that makes small, entry-level vehicles targeted at younger drivers, received the best ratings.
It was followed by Toyota's luxury Lexus division. Acura, Mazda and Honda rounded out the top five most reliable nameplates.
Like Ford, Honda took a significant dive, falling from first place last year to fifth this year.
"We think Honda has lost the plot," Champion said.
Of the 91 Japanese models for which Consumer Reports collected data, 87, or 96%, were rated average or better in reliability, and 24 of those earned the highest rating.
Jeep scored the highest of the domestic brands, ranking 13th. Lincoln and Chrysler also scored better than the other domestic manufacturers, ranking in the middle of the pack.
The jump in rankings is a boost for Chrysler, owner of the Jeep, Chrysler and Dodge brands, which is still working to retool its business after its 2009 bankruptcy and federal government bailout.
Champion noted that newly designed Chrysler vehicles -- including the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Durango and the Chrysler 200 -- all scored much better than what they replaced, "not only in how they perform, but also in their reliability."
"This is a really good sign for Chrysler. They need to continue to build vehicles to this quality standard," Champion said. "They have worked very hard to get their reliability up."
Chrysler said it was pleased with the results.
"It's no secret that Consumer Reports was critical of our older products," said Doug Betts, the automaker's quality chief. "Our new leadership team has devoted significant resources to interior refinement, improved performance, world-class fit and finish, and more rigorous reliability testing."
The brands owned by General Motors Co. did not fare well. The best was Chevrolet, which was ranked 17th. Buick and Cadillac had big drops from a year ago, each falling six places to 24th and 25th, respectively.
Of the 97 domestic models for which Consumer Reports collected data, 62, or 63.9%, had ratings of average or better.
The reliability ratings make up one component of Consumer Reports' evaluation of vehicles. To be recommended by the magazine, a vehicle also has to score well in driving tests, have a reliability ranking of average or better and have good safety ratings.
European brands had the least reliable models.
Of the 58 European models Consumer Reports looked at, 37, or 63.8%, scored average or better ratings.
The Jaguar XF received the poorest reliability ratings of the more than 250 vehicles. Jaguar also was the lowest-rated brand.
Audi came in at No. 26.
Porsche was 27th, down 25 places from a year ago, the biggest drop of any manufacturer.
Consumer Reports blamed the decline on the redesigned Cayenne SUV, which had "a terrible debut year."
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Highs and lows
Consumer Reports' list of the best and worst vehicles for reliability.
The top 10
1. Lexus CT 200h
2. Honda CR-Z
3. Infiniti QX56
4. Scion xD
5. Toyota Highlander (4-cyl.)
6. Lexus ES
7. Nissan Titan
8. Honda Fit
9. Toyota Prius
10. Toyota RAV4 (4-cyl.)
The bottom 10
1. Jaguar XF
2. Jaguar XJ
3. Audi Q5 (V6)
4. Chevrolet Silverado 2500
5. GMC Sierra 2500
6. Nissan Z
7. Volkswagen Routan
8. Ford Edge (AWD)
9. Mini Cooper Clubman S
10. Lincoln MKX (FWD)
Source: Consumer Reports