* Ford rank slides to 23rd from 5th last year
* Toyota jumps to 7th from 21st
* U.S. industry avg improves 1.8 pct
* Lexus tops list, GM's Cadillac top U.S. brand at No. 9
By Ben Klayman
DETROIT, June 23 Ford Motor Co's (F.N) ranking
in a closely watched quality survey plunged only a year after
topping all mass-market brands as problems with new technology
hurt the automaker.
In a reversal of fortune, Japanese automaker Toyota Motor
Corp's (7203.T) namesake brand, which last year tumbled to its
lowest ranking ever due to a series of damaging recalls, pulled
off a corresponding rebound, according to the influential study
of U.S. consumers released Thursday by J.D. Power and
Ford, the only U.S. automaker to avoid bankruptcy and a
government bailout, saw its namesake brand slide to 23rd -- its
lowest spot in a decade -- after leading all mass-market brands
last year in 5th place, its highest ranking ever. Toyota
rebounded to 7th from 21st last year. The last time Ford ranked
lower was 25th in 2001.
"Ford is on the leading edge, certainly in the mass market,
of trying to bring new technology into the vehicles," said
David Sargent, J.D. Power's vice president of global vehicle
research. "With that comes some risk that there will be
unforeseen problems and that's exactly what happened.
"There's a great deal of parity between the different
vehicles and different brands, so if you have a significant
problem in a particular area, that can really set you back in
terms of the rankings," he added.
Toyota's Lexus luxury brand captured the top spot, moving
up from 4th last year. It was followed by Honda Motor Co Ltd's
(7267.T) namesake and Acura brands, Daimler AG's (DAIGn.DE)
Mercedes-Benz, Mazda (7261.T) and last year's leader, Porsche
The J.D. Power study, which records difficulties faced by
new car owners in the first 90 days of ownership, was conducted
between February and May this year.
The results of the survey, the most comprehensive benchmark
of new car quality, are used heavily in auto industry marketing
and are seen as influential in shaping consumer perceptions. It
is also watched as a barometer for resale values and as a proxy
for warranty costs.
Ford customers found the automaker's audio and interior
control systems too complex or at times inoperable, Sargent
said. "It's not as easy to reboot a car as it is a computer."
Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, said on
Tuesday ahead of the survey's release that the company's own
quality ratings of its vehicles would be "mixed" for the year,
down from "improved" last year.
Ford was dinged earlier this year when influential magazine
Consumer Reports did not give a "recommended" rating to its
SUVs Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX because of the complexity of the
MyFord Touch and the MyLincoln Touch systems.
Ford has acknowledged those problems, making software
changes and offering customers training at Ford dealers. It
also said Tuesday it is working to ease the use of
voice-control systems in its vehicles and making improvements
on a few of its powertrains. [ID:nN1E75K1TI]
"As we see issues in our own internal reporting, we jump
all over them and quickly address them," Fields said.
On average across the industry, U.S. consumers reported 107
problems per 100 vehicles sold, an improvement of 1.8 percent
from 109 problems last year, J.D. Power said.
However, the industry average for all-new or heavily
redesigned vehicles slid 10 percent to 122 problems per 100
vehicles, J.D. Power said. The decline was most stark in the
engine/transmission and audio/entertainment/navigation
Software to improve fuel efficiency sometimes leads to
engine or transmission "hesitation" when accelerating or
changing gears, J.D. Power said.
Meanwhile, problem rates in the audio/entertainment
category jumped 18 percent as many consumers complained their
hands-free or voice-activation systems were not intuitive or
did not always function properly.
U.S. automakers in recent years have spent heavily in a bid
to close the gap with the Japanese automakers, led by Toyota
and Honda, which had established a reputation for eliminating
flaws from engineering and manufacturing.
General Motors Co's (GM.N) Cadillac luxury and GMC truck
brands were the only ones among U.S. automakers to exceed the
industry average, coming in at the 9th and 10th places. Only
the top 10 brands in the survey topped the industry average.
GM's Chevrolet and Buick brands ranked 14th and 20th among
the 32 brands measured.
Ford's Lincoln brand finished 17th, while Chrysler's
FIA.MI namesake, Ram, Jeep and Dodge brands ranked 16th,
22nd, 25th and 32nd, respectively.
(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Detroit, editing by