2002 Lexus LS 430
Lexus LS430. Photo by Grant Yoxon. Click image to enlarge

by Richard Russell

The Lexus LS430 is the highest quality vehicle sold in Canada – again. The discontinued Lincoln Blackwood the top truck and the Buick Century among more affordable cars.

Quality and reliability are directly connected – and closely tracked by not only consumers – but also by the auto industry itself. There are a number of surveys around the world, but by far the most closely watched and respected are those conducted by J D Power & Associates. Power sends out extensive surveys to the registered owners of new vehicles, tracking their experience from initial quality and the sales experience through multiple years of ownership and the service provided by dealers.

The auto industry was Power’s first customer, and remains its most important because of the unbiased nature of the reports. The industry uses Power surveys to gauge its progress on the quality front. It is interesting to compare two recent Power surveys, one for initial quality and the other for long-term reliability. The competition and resulting consistent improvement in quality is of immense benefit to consumers.

The latest initial quality survey shows domestic manufacturers sneaking up on perennial leaders Honda and Toyota – the first time in the 16-year history of the survey. GM landed in third place corporately, DaimlerChrysler fourth and Ford fifth overall. This particular survey reached 65,000 owners of 2002 models and involved problems encountered in the first 90 days after purchase or lease. Results are based on complaints per 100 vehicles. The industry average is 133 and the Lexus LS430 leads the pack with 56. It really is true that nobody builds a poor vehicle today. The industry average has shot up 25% in the last five years alone. The poorest quality vehicle on the market in 2002 would have been among the industry leaders 17 years ago!

Some interesting developments: The Chevy Malibu bumped the Nissan Altima from top spot among mid-size sedans. Its siblings, the Olds Alero and Pontiac Grand AM were third and fourth. Ford got some good news when the new Thunderbird finished ahead of the Acura TL and Lexus ES300 in the entry luxury segment. So much for the old theory of not buying a new car until they get the bugs worked out!

The Ford Expedition topped the full-size sport utility segment while Toyota or Lexus won all five remaining truck categories. Among auto makers overall, Toyota was first for the third consecutive year with Lexus best among brands – a position it has held for 10 of the past 12 years.

The top 15 brands in the most recent initial quality survey were: Lexus, Acura, Infiniti, Toyota, Volvo, Honda, BMW, Cadillac, Buick, Lincoln, Saturn, Porsche, Chevrolet, Mercedes and Chrysler. They ranged in number of complaints per 100 vehicles from 88 for Lexus to 133 for Chrysler. The top 15 individual vehicles were: Lexus LS 430, Lincoln Blackwood, Lexus SC430, Lexus GS300/GS430, Mercedes S-Class, Buick Century, Ford Thunderbird, Mercedes SL-Class, Lexus LX470, Chevy Monte Carlo, Acura TL and Lincoln Town Car. The range here was from 56 to 94.

Now by way of direct comparison let’s go to the other end of the spectrum – to four and five year old vehicles. Power says that even in this age of leases where people simply trade keys after a few years, long-term durability is an important consideration to more than half of all new vehicle buyers. A reputation for poor durability also lowers resale value, and thus the cost of leases.

The top five brands? Those with the fewest problems after four to five years on the road? Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, Honda and Toyota, proving that if they are built correctly in the first place, they will be more reliable. This survey was conducted among 30,000 owners of 1998 models, some of which were sold in 1997.

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