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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

VW, Ford lead in U.S. auto quality survey

Less than a month after Ford Motor Co. was pummeled in one quality survey, a second survey has ranked it the No. 2 highest-quality U.S. automaker.

The second survey, released by Strategic Vision Inc. on Tuesday, said that customers' overall feeling about their vehicles is more important than particular problems.

Volkswagen was the top-ranked car company in the survey, helped by the Golf, Jetta and Tiguan models.

Ford owners reported more problems with their vehicles than the industry average, but rated the overall quality of the vehicles highly, according to the survey. They were particularly happy with the Ford Mustang coupe and convertible, the Flex, and the F-150 and 250/350 pickup trucks.

"People think of quality in a very different sense than just counting problems," said Christopher Chaney, a Strategic Vision vice president in charge of automotive research.

A company's use of new technology or styling can also play important roles, he said.

On a statistical basis, Ford tied with American Honda and Nissan Motor Corp. for the No. 2 ranking. Still, Ford fared better in the Strategic Vision study than it did in a survey by J.D. Power and Associates last month, where it fell to 23rd place, its lowest ranking in a decade. The J.D. Power survey records difficulties faced by new car owners in the first 90 days of ownership.

Ford has recently been criticized for a clunky control system for its radios and difficult-to-use technology.

Strategic Vision survey
Strategic Vision asked car owners to rate all aspects of ownership, from the process of buying a vehicle to its performance. The 2011 survey included 37,069 buyers of 2011 model-year vehicles from September to December 2010.
Corporation Total quality score Percent reporting
Volkswagen of America 881 27
Ford Motor Co* 863 28
American Honda Motor* 862 19
Nissan Motor Corp* 862 21
General Motors Co** 860 27
Toyota Motor Sales 854 20
Chrysler Group 853 28
Hyundai Motor America 852 28
* Statistical tie
** Excludes Saab
The Strategic Vision survey asks car owners to rate all aspects of ownership, from the process of buying a vehicle to its performance. The 2011 survey included 37,069 buyers of 2011 vehicles from September to December 2010. This is the sixteenth year of the survey, which is paid for by manufacturers.

Surveys like the Strategic Vision survey and the J.D. Power survey that attempt to gauge consumer sentiment are key pieces of industry marketing materials and help shape consumer opinion. They also help set resale values and warranty costs.

The idea that a car owner's overall experience could trump minor problems with a vehicle rests on the premise that there are few serious problems, those problems are typically fixed immediately at the dealership, and styling details can have significant impact, according to the survey.

Besides Ford, Volkswagen of America and Hyundai Motor America have also benefited from an owner's overall experience, according to the survey.

On average, 30 percent of owners reported problems with Volkswagen's Jetta and Hyundai's Sonata, compared with 22 percent of owners reporting problems for all mid-size cars. Even so, the 2011 models of both vehicles had record sales, according to the survey. The higher incidence of problems didn't matter because Jetta and Sonata owners were happy with their overall purchase, according to the survey.

Hyundai ranked 8th -- last place -- because some of its non-Sonata models were poorly received and the period of the survey excluded some new models, Chaney said.

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