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GM, Ford, Toyota lead dependability survey

Many fixes made on '02 model year

DETROIT -- Almost every automaker made significant strides in vehicle dependability in a new survey, J.D. Power and Associates said yesterday. General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., and Toyota Motor Co., the world's three largest automakers, were top performers.

The closely watched survey, published since the late 1980s, measures dependability by questioning owners of three-year-old vehicles about problems they're experiencing, such as wind noise or excessive brake wear. This year's survey questioned 50,635 owners of 2002 model-year cars and trucks.

Chance Parker, executive director of product and research analysis at J.D. Power, said the industry showed a 12 percent improvement in this year's survey. The industry average was 237 problems per 100 vehicles this year, compared with 269 problems per 100 vehicles in 2004.

Parker said manufacturers fixed a variety of problems in the 2002 model year.

''Almost every manufacturer got better this year, and we don't always see that," Parker said. ''Manufacturers have already picked all the low-hanging fruit, so now they have to tackle every little thing."

Lexus, Toyota's luxury nameplate, was the top-performing brand with 139 problems per 100 vehicles, while Kia was the worst performer with 397 problems. Hyundai Motor Co. showed the most improvement, with 260 problems per vehicle compared with 375 problems in the 2001 model year.

Parker said Hyundai also improved dramatically when J.D. Power did its initial quality survey in 2002. That survey measures problems in new vehicles in the first 90 days of ownership.

''The 2002 initial quality survey is when we first saw a really big improvement from Hyundai, and that has translated into really high durability," Parker said.

GM had the winners in eight of 19 vehicle segments. The Chevrolet Prizm was the top-performing compact car, the Buick LeSabre was the top full-size car and the Chevrolet S-10 was the top mid-size pickup. GM outstripped Ford, which had five segment winners, and Toyota, which had four.

Annette Clayton, GM's North American vice president for quality, said strategies the company put in place five years ago to improve quality are paying off. ''Our quality is good, it continues to improve and now our customers recognize it," Clayton said.

Parker said GM's ranking may surprise some consumers who perceive poor quality at GM because of vehicles made in the past. Clayton said GM recognizes the problem and is working hard to overcome it.

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