Bloomberg News

Japan’s Quality Slips as Camry Loses Consumer Reports Nod

October 28, 2013

Toyota's Camry

The Toyota Motor Corp. Camry logo is seen on a vehicle displayed for sale at the DCH Auto Group Dealership in Torrance, California. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Consumer Reports pulled its recommendation for Toyota Motor Corp.’s Camry sedan and said post-bankruptcy General Motors Co. is among the automakers cracking Japanese brands’ dominance in fielding reliable cars.

Consumer Reports isn’t recommending any version of the Camry, the top-selling U.S. car the past 11 years, for the first time since the automaker’s 2010 sudden-acceleration crisis, said Jake Fisher, the magazine’s director of automotive testing. While Toyota and Honda Motor Co. held the top three spots in the annual auto-reliability survey released yesterday, GM’s GMC and Buick posted gains. Volkswagen AG’s Audi cracked the top five.

Eroding dominance in quality and reliability weakens Japanese automakers’ long-held advantage that spurred growth in the U.S. at the expense of Detroit carmakers. Endorsements from Yonkers, New York-based Consumer Reports are sought by automakers because the magazine has built credibility by buying the vehicles it tests and refusing auto advertising.

“A lot of people do buy these vehicles just banking on their quality -- I’m going to go buy a Honda or a Toyota because I know it’s going to be reliable,” Fisher said yesterday in an interview. “Some of our data is showing that’s not the case.”

The Camry was among four vehicles, including three Toyotas, that are losing recommendations after being rated poor in a new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety test. Toyota’s RAV4 sport-utility vehicle and Prius v hybrid wagon, and Audi’s A4 sedan also lost recommendations after low ratings in the tests, which evaluate a crash between the front corner of the vehicle and another car, a tree or a pole.

Lexus No. 1

The insurance institute “periodically develops new, more severe or specialized tests that go beyond federal requirements,” Cindy Knight, a Toyota spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. “The institute has raised the bar again, and we are responding to the challenge. We are looking at a range of solutions to achieve greater crash performance in this area.”

Toyota’s Lexus and namesake brands captured the top two spots in the reliability survey. Honda’s premium Acura brand was third, followed by Audi and Mazda Motor Corp. GM’s GMC truck line was ninth, the only U.S. brand in the top 10. Buick gained nine spots to 12th.

The survey found models including Honda’s six-cylinder Accord sedan, Nissan Motor Co.’s Altima sedan and Pathfinder SUV, and Toyota’s Scion FR-S and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.’s Subaru BRZ sports car had below-average reliability. Consumer Reports collected data on 1.1 million vehicles and surveyed respondents on any problems they had with cars that were considered serious because of cost, failure, safety or downtime.

‘No Longer’

“Maybe there was a time that you could say well, if it’s a car from Subaru, it’s a car from Toyota, it’s going to be reliable,” Fisher said. “No longer are we seeing that.”

Nissan’s premium Infiniti, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co.’s Volvo and Honda’s mainstream line rounded out the reliability survey’s top eight.

Consumer Reports last month awarded the new Chevrolet Silverado with the highest rating among all pickups after giving the Chevy Impala the best marks among all sedans in July.

“Post-bankruptcy GM has just gotten its stuff together,” said Fisher, a former development engineer at the Detroit-based automaker who worked mostly on the Cadillac and Saturn brands. “The vehicles that have been produced and designed” after bankruptcy have shown “marked change in terms of performance.”

Ford, Lincoln

Ford Motor Co. (F:US), based in Dearborn, Michigan, remains plagued by nagging malfunctions with its electronics systems and powertrains in the reliability survey. The Ford and Lincoln lines ranked Nos. 26 and 27 out of 28 brands this year, as one of the automaker’s six-cylinder F-150 pickups was the only model that performed above average.

Ford’s rankings suffered because of defects with its MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch audio, entertainment and navigation systems and defects with transmissions on vehicles such as the Focus and Fiesta small cars, Fisher said.

“The electronics are definitely a big issue, but they have other problems, too,” he said. “Ford has done clean-sheet redesigns of so many vehicles, and as you would expect, there are going to be a bunch of different issues with that.”

Chrysler, Tesla

Chrysler Group LLC’s namesake brand and its Ram truck line climbed five and six spots, respectively, to both rank inside the top 20. Chrysler’s Jeep slipped four spots to No. 23 and Dodge was unchanged at No. 24.

“Chrysler is building these great products that are performing well, and unfortunately they’re a little hit-or-miss in terms of the quality,” Fisher said. “This is just a situation of maturity where they’re working out the bugs and you’re going to get great products that we can recommend.”

Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA:US)’s Model S sedan earned Consumer Reports’ recommendation after testing as average on reliability. The Model S received the highest-ever vehicle rating from the magazine in May and needed to be at least average on reliability to get Consumer Reports’ recommendation.

“Surprisingly, there are no problems reported with the battery, the electric drivetrain,” Fisher said. “Some of the issues we saw were things like the door handles” which pop out of the side doors.

Tesla’s brand doesn’t rank in the reliability survey because it carries less than the three-model minimum to be included. Had Consumer Reports included the brand, it would have ranked No. 8, behind Volvo and ahead of Honda.

To contact the reporter on this story: Craig Trudell in Southfield, Michigan at ctrudell1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net


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