Toyota workers build Corolla subcompact sedans in Japan. Consumer Reports'… (Yoshikazu Tsuno/ AFP / Getty…)
Toyota Motor Corp. is selling the most reliable cars in the U.S. auto market, Consumer Reports said Monday.
The top seven spots in this year’s predicted reliability report are all held by Japanese brands. With the exception of Cadillac, domestic brands — most notably Ford Motor Co. vehicles — were well below average. German brands were the best cars coming out of Europe.
The magazine, which annually issues a report about auto reliability, said Toyota’s three brands — Scion, Toyota, and Lexus — swept the top spots in its study.
Of the 27 models in the brand’s lineup, 16 earned the highest rating. Interestingly, the subcompact Toyota Prius C hybrid, a car Consumer Reports has criticized for a stiff ride, noisy cabin and cheap-looking interior trim, appears to be well-built. It had the magazine’s top reliability score overall.
The reliability report came out on the same day when Toyota Executive Vice President Yukitoshi Funo told reporters in Japan that the automaker will surpass the record 9.37-million vehicles it sold in 2007 and set a new industry record for global auto sales this year.
The annual report by the consumer magazine is closely watched by the auto industry because of its influence on what cars people purchase, said Larry Dominique, executive vice president of auto price information company TrueCar.com and former head of product planning for Nissan in the Americas.
“When I was at Nissan we realized that more than 60% of consumers were influenced by Consumer Reports in one way or another, it could be the predicted reliability report or their individual model recommendations,” Dominique said.
“The things that Consumer Reports pays attention to are extremely practical — reliability, fuel economy, safety, cargo capacity and ergonomics,” he said. “But it doesn’t really look at the emotional aspects of a car and that also influences what people buy. “
Of the major automakers, Consumer Reports said Ford Motor Co. fared the worst, tripped up by problems with its MyFord/MyLincoln Touch electronic infotainment system.
The automaker’s Ford brand had the worst reliability of the 28 brands in the rankings save Jaguar, which perennially is at the bottom. Ford’s Lincoln brand was just one notch higher in 26th place.
“Ford’s bumpy road can be seen in the numbers. Sixty-percent of Ford-branded models and half of Lincoln's were below average in predicted reliability, and none placed above average,” said Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports.
That compares to two years ago when Ford was the most reliable domestic automaker, cracking the top 10 brands in Consumer Reports’ predicted reliability scores study. More than 90% of its models scored as average or better at that time.
Fisher said Consumer Reports has seen a “huge number of complaints” about Ford’s electronic infotainment and control system.
“It’s not just that it is difficult to use, it is also malfunctioning,” he said.
Ford responded to the report, saying its own measure of consumer satisfaction with the infotainment system has improved since it released a software upgrade in March.
"We listen closely and value feedback on our vehicles – whether it’s from customers or third parties, such as Consumer Reports. We remain absolutely committed to continuously improving and providing the highest-quality vehicles to our customers," the automaker said.
The Chrysler Group brands of Chrysler, Jeep and Ram were only slightly better. General Motors Co. brands were mostly in the middle of the predicted reliability report, but all have improved from last year.
While most cars are mechanically sound and experience fewer problems with engines, transmissions and exhaust systems than the vehicles of previous generations, autos are developing “more issues with electronics, the audio system, power equipment and controls. It is across the board, not just one automaker,” Fisher said.
But rechargeable cars, either all-electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf or a plug-in hybrid such as the Chevrolet Volt, are proving to be among most reliable cars on the road. The Leaf was Nissan’s most reliable model, while the Volt was Chevrolet’s best.
“Electric cars don’t have whiz-bang technology that you would think,” Fisher said.
An electric battery and a motor are much less complicated than a piston engine and a transmission with “far less moving parts, far less chemical reactions, explosions and far less going on,” Fisher said. “They have a lot less to go wrong.”