Toyota tops 'most reliable' category

Toyota Motor Corp., the biggest Japanese automaker in the U.S., accounted for almost half of the industry's "most reliable" vehicles and again dominated an annual survey by Consumer Reports magazine.

Toyota built 21 of the 47 autos with the highest rating for reliability, the magazine said in its new-car preview issue, which again ranks Asian products as the most dependable overall.


The results illustrate the challenges facing General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG as they try to win back customers in their home market. While this and other surveys show improvements in quality, Detroit's automakers still lag behind Toyota and Honda Motor Co., the No. 2 Japanese seller in the United States.

"The Japanese carmakers really enjoy a better reputation for quality, and that's a real concern for most buyers today," said Erich Merkle, an analyst with IRN Inc., an auto industry consultant in Grand Rapids, Mich. "It's going to be very difficult for the domestics to overcome that, to improve their public image."


Among the 47 most reliable this year were the Honda Fit small car, the Toyota Highlander hybrid mid-size sport utility vehicle, GM's Pontiac Vibe wagon and the Ford Fusion sedan, Consumer Reports said.

U.S. automakers had a combined 20 vehicles rated the least reliable. European automakers - including GM's Saab and Ford's Volvo, Jaguar and Land Rover brands - also had 20. Nissan Motor Co. alone had five and DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes-Benz had eight.

GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Division lost a combined 3.1 percentage points of U.S. market share through October, to 56.9 percent. Toyota and Honda gained 2.6 points to 24.3 percent.

Honda and its Acura luxury unit had 11 models on the list of the most reliable. GM and Ford each had three, and DaimlerChrysler, including Mercedes, had none. Toyota and its Lexus luxury brand also ranked first in six of 10 vehicle categories.

Consumer Reports' findings were based on surveys of readers. The magazine uses that data along with vehicle tests to determine which models it recommends for purchase. The recommendations also incorporate safety data from U.S. government and insurance-industry crash tests.

Fuji Heavy Industry Ltd.'s Subaru had three vehicles on the most-reliable list. Two other Japanese companies, Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Nissan Motor, including Infiniti, had two each. Germany's Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and South Korea's Hyundai Motor Co. had one.

As for Toyota and Honda, "it's not an accident that they get rated this high," said Earl J. Hesterberg, chief executive officer of Group 1 Automotive, the fourth-biggest U.S. auto retailer, and a former executive with Ford, Nissan and Toyota. "They've been building them right for 15 to 20 years."

In last year's survey, Toyota accounted for 15 of 31 vehicles rated as "most reliable."


Bennie W. Fowler, Ford's vice president of quality, said the inclusion of three new Ford sedans on the reliable list - the Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr - show the company is "making substantial improvements." He said Ford is working to improve the reliability of its trucks and SUVs, none of which made the list.

The absence of Chrysler vehicles from the most-reliable list is "definitely a concern," said Sam Locricchio, a spokesman for the automaker. He said he expected the company's results to improve in future surveys.

Donna Boland, a Mercedes-Benz spokeswoman, said she thought the report was "out of sync" with buyers' experiences. "We've been seeing an upward trend in quality," she said. "There is something off with that survey."

For GM, the survey's results "are not where we want them to be, but we do have a great improvement trend," said spokeswoman Janine Fruehan. The automaker had three of its minivans, including the Saturn Relay, ranked as least reliable.

U.S. automakers have been making progress in reliability and quality, said John Casesa, managing partner of Casesa Strategic Advisors in New York.

"The challenge is to convince consumers to buy them," he said.