Lexus-Level Dependability, Now Available at Lower Prices

Key paragraph: "But shoppers who take the results as a sign that this is a good time to buy a new Buick might still be disappointed. While the
study offered some indication that the General Motors nameplate was achieving top-level dependability, shoppers may wonder if they are three years too late. All but one of the Buick models that did so well are extinct. The Century, Park Avenue and Regal are gone; the Rainier sport utility is still in dealerships, but production has ended."
Another question is whether GM can sustain the quality level and extend it to other brands.
Lexus-Level Dependability, Now Available at Lower Prices http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/12/automobiles/12DEPEND.html?pagewanted=print
PART cautionary tale for consumers and part report card for automakers, the latest J. D. Power & Associates Vehicle Dependability Study, released last week, seemed to prove that you no longer have to pay a premium price to get premium quality.
In fact, the highest-rated brands in the study included several nonluxury car lines, like Mercury, Honda, Toyota and Subaru, as well as three American luxury brands Buick, Cadillac and Lincoln that usually take a back seat to foreign rivals.
The 2007 study, which examined how well 2004 models have fared over three years, also poses a question that might once have been considered heresy: Can a Buick be as dependable as a Lexus?
Apparently so; the two brands tied for first place, ending Lexuss 12-year reign as the uncontested leader in long-term quality.
But shoppers who take the results as a sign that this is a good time to buy a new Buick might still be disappointed. While the study offered some indication that the General Motors nameplate was achieving top-level dependability, shoppers may wonder if they are three years too late. All but one of the Buick models that did so well are extinct. The Century, Park Avenue and Regal are gone; the Rainier sport utility is still in dealerships, but production has ended.
The Power dependability study ranks three-year-old vehicles by the number of problems reported by more than 53,000 original owners. The report offers a look at how vehicles are holding up over a longer period problems caused by components that break as a result of use or age and have to be replaced, rather than issues that arise from faulty assembly.
The study ranks 38 automakers by the number of problems for every 100 vehicles; the lower the score, the better the ranking. At the top, Buick and Lexus each tallied 145 problems per 100 vehicles. Land Rover, a perennial cellar dweller, was again at the bottom with 398 problems per 100 vehicles, although it has improved with 40 fewer problems per 100 than last year. Hummer was the most improved brand.
Over all, the news is good, with two-thirds of the brands improving from last year. That shows the industry is continuing to improve in long-term durability, according to Power. The industry average this year is 216 problems per 100 cars, 11 fewer than last year.
Still, the study found that about 65 percent of owners experienced one or more problems that required replacement of a component, which could be anything from a wear item like brake pads up to a transmission. This is important to automakers: owners who had to replace parts during the first three years of ownership are considerably less satisfied than those who didnt, and less likely to be loyal to the brand.
The dependability report can be helpful to consumers looking for a used vehicle because it provides the names of the top three models in 19 car and truck segments ranging from subcompact car to large pickup.
Factors contributing to Buicks showing include G.Ms efforts at continuous product improvement and the long production run of models like Regal and Century, which gave the company time to work out problems. In addition, older owners the typical demographic of brands like Buick and Mercury tend to be a bit more lenient or they tend to notice fewer problems, said Joe Ivers, executive director for automotive quality and customer satisfaction at J. D. Power.
Mr. Ivers insisted that this did not diminish Buicks achievement. Buick now has a track record, he said.
There is also some reason to expect the new Buicks will fare well, Mr. Ivers said, because they also did well in short-term quality reports: G.M. has some ambitions for Buick, to resurrect that brand by repositioning it to actually, of all things, compete with Lexus.
Ten years ago, everybody in the room would have been laughing, Mr. Ivers said. In fact, some people still would. But we could argue with our data that Buick is beginning to become more credible as a competitor.
Lexus has long had a reputation for treating its customers right, but this year Buick beat Lexus in another Power survey, which measured satisfaction with dealership service departments.
Im not saying this is definitive proof, but Im suggesting that now is a good time to start raising the question of whether Buick in fact is ready for prime time, Mr. Ivers said.
The dependability study also suggests that the long-term quality of cars made by the South Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia may not yet be quite as good as had been indicated by the 2004 Initial Quality Study, a measure of faults in the first 90 days of ownership.
In that study, the Korean automakers cut their initial quality problems by 57 percent over the previous six years; Hyundai in particular found itself in the enviable position of being in the top 10 in initial quality.
But those same 2004 models are now part of this long-term quality study, and Hyundai is not in the top 10 but in 23rd place, below the industry average. Hyundai had 228 problems per 100 vehicles, worse than the industry average of 216 problems.
Longer-term quality is the high hurdle, Mr. Ivers said. But Hyundai is definitely in the hunt. In addition, Hyundai is still improving at a rate that is about twice the improvement rate of the industry on average, he said.
Mercedes-Benz made noteworthy gains, moving above the industry average after years of struggling. But it still came in well below its archrival, BMW, the top-rated European automaker.
Still, for consumers who cannot afford a luxury vehicle, the good news is that the gap between luxury and nonluxury brands has been narrowing and will continue to diminish, Mr. Ivers said.
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Jim Higgins wrote:

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They are trying to attract new (younger) buyers with new names. I wonder how new the new models truly are, sheet metal aside. Drivetrain seems pretty much the same.
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Edwin Pawlowski wrote:

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