Posted by: David Kiley on February 28, 2006
Sources tell me that when Consumer Reports releases its newest ratings for automobiles tomorrow, Detroit is going to see some setbacks with a declining number of CR recommendations.
It comes at a bad time for the domestic automakers as General Motors and Ford are struggling with their finances and are working overtime to change public perceptions that their vehicles are less reliable and trustworthy than Asian competitors, especially Toyota and Honda.
Consumer Reports ratings are based on surveys filled out by its readers. Usually when the domestics fare badly, they point to the readership of CR as skewing younger, more liberal and predisposed to imports. Of course, when they improve, they usually say CR’s readers are a perfect representation of America.
Judging from the domestic cars I get to drive as a journalist, it’s hard not to think that quality is improving at GM, Ford and Chrysler. Not only do they seem to break less often, but the interiors and fitments of exterior panels are much better than they used to be. Of course, it’s not as if Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, et al are getting dumber about such things, so comparisons remain tough for Detroit.
In the last J.D. Power and Associates Vehicle Dependability ranking, which measures reliability over three years via surveys of car owners, the domestics did pretty well. General Motors models earned eight segment awards and Ford Motor Company models received five segment awards —a record for both GM and Ford in VDS. Toyota Motor Corporation models received four awards.
Some of the category winners in JDP’s rankings, though, perennially raise eyebrows: i.e. the Buick Regal and Century (both now discontinued) rank as top mid-sized cars. If you have seen driven these cars and seen the demographic of owners, one can only conclude that the owners are disproportionately GM employees and old enough to have diminished hearing and eyesight.
The CR rankings are influential because CR subscribers are, by their nature, perhaps the most persnickety consumers around. They may not be a perfect reflection of American carbuyers, but are probably the toughest graders. So, car buyers are not wrong to take the CR rankings and ratings seriously.