Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Survey: GM, Chrysler below average in quality


The 2006 Dodge Dakota ranked third in midsize truck category. See full image

Report finds most of the crosstown rivals' models performed worse than they did a year ago.

Sharon Terlep / The Detroit News

DETROIT -- All of General Motors Corp.'s and the Chrysler Group's brands scored below average in initial vehicle quality, J.D. Power and Associates reported Wednesday.

While Ford Motor Co. had more segment-leading 2007 model-year vehicles than Toyota Motor Corp. in the annual survey, which tracks quality during the first 90 days of ownership, its crosstown rivals stumbled.

All but three of the 11 nameplates owned by GM and Chrysler performed worse than they did a year ago in the closely watched quality survey. The results could hinder sales efforts.

"Customers are desperate for outsides sources" of information on quality, said Jim Hall, an analyst with AutoPacific Inc. in Southfield. "It has an effect."

GM's Cadillac luxury brand fell farthest, from seventh to 25th place, followed by the Chrysler brand, which dropped from 11th to 27th place. GM's Buick, Saab and Hummer brands notched up in the field of 35.

"I'm not happy, I can tell you that. We didn't execute," said Jamie Hresko, GM's vice president of quality. "We were average and we don't want to be average."

A number of complicated product launches increased glitches in new vehicles, he said. GM became aware of a number of problems, particularly in the Cadillac line, through its own research and has already fixed the mistakes, he said. GM launched 19 new models in 2006.

Despite the disappointment, GM had success in some traditionally strong areas, namely trucks. The automaker had the highest-ranked large pickup with the Chevrolet Silverado Classic HD, the top van with the Chevrolet Express and the best-ranked large car in the Pontiac Grand Prix.

Chrysler's struggles similar

Chrysler introduced 10 new models in 2006 and faced some of the same struggles as GM.

While the J.D. Power survey wasn't flattering, the Auburn Hills automaker is encouraged that its warranty costs were down 4 percent last year from 2005, said Chrysler spokesman Sam Locricchio.

Chrysler's Dodge Dakota pickup was third in the midsize truck category and the Chrysler Aspen got good marks for a newly launched vehicle."To launch that much fresh product and still have that many positives is an accomplishment," Locricchio said.

Standards up industrywide

J.D. Power's Neal Oddes noted that product launches are becoming a "key differentiator" of quality in the industry, namely because new products are coming out with increasing frequency.

Oddes, director of product research and analysis, also agreed with points raised by both GM and Chrysler -- the quality gap between brands has narrowed vastly over the years. Significant differences remain, however, at the model level.

As standards ratchet up industrywide, automakers must produce quality vehicles to get consumers to even consider their vehicles. And Detroit's automakers can't afford any bad news in the marketplace, he said.

"If you try to get by without building a quality car, you might as well forget it," AutoPacific's Hall

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