And now for a little good news about Ford Motor Co.
Just as billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian says he is moving to sell his stake in the auto maker -- and lose nearly $700-million of the original $1-billion investment (all figures in U.S. dollars) - in the process - Ford shows well in Consumer Reports' widely followed reliability study, the 2008 version.
So despite Kerkorian's stinging no-confidence vote, it's clear that Ford has figured out how to build high-quality vehicles. According to Consumer Reports, Ford's improved reliability is not a "flash in the pan," says CR's director of auto testing, David Champion. Ford is the best of the Detroit auto makers and closing in on industry leaders Honda and Toyota.
"If they only had models that were slightly more exciting for the public to buy, they'd be in a lot better place," adds Champion, nailing Ford's current problem perfectly.
At least Ford knows what's wrong and has a plan in place to fix things. Derrick Kuzak, the head of global product development says Ford is feverishly refining its global product development and manufacturing processes. They are key to building not just reliable cars, but cars and light trucks people want to own.
The new 2009 F-150 pickup is a pretty good example of what Ford is doing to get things right. Ford looks to have nailed it with this pickup. Too bad the pickup marketplace is shrinking faster than the home building industry in the U.S.
But let's not undermine what Ford has accomplished in a few short years. Four years ago Ford's quality was terrible. And it had been an embarrassment for years and years. Not now.
Consumer Reports, a notoriously tough critic of Detroit's ways, says its research has found that most Ford vehicles have average or better reliability. Still, Ford should keep the corks in the champagne bottles. The best of the Japanese car makers still hold their lead in the study's rankings.
"Ford's three nameplates -- Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury (Mercury is not marketed in Canada) -- lead the domestic auto makers and continue to pull away from the rest of Detroit," the report says.
Most importantly, Ford is "extremely close to Toyota and Honda in terms of reliability," says Champion.
Even better for Ford, Champion says the auto makers' problem vehicles are older truck-based models such as the Ford F-150, Explorer and Explorer Sport Trac. The F-150 is right now being replaced by a much, much improved '09 version and the Explorer and Explorer Sport Trac are on their way to being phased out entirely.
So kudos to Ford.
As for the rest of the CR study, Scion - the youth brand from Toyota which is coming to Canada in 2010 -- Acura, Honda and Toyota top the list of most reliable brands. In fact, the top 10 were all Asian brands.
The surprise there is that Kia joined the top 10. Sister brand Hyundai moved up seven spots to finish eighth, too.
At the other end, Chrysler, Saturn and Land Rover ranked last. Land Rover has been on the bottom for a while now, but the Chrysler brand dropped 13 spots in the ranking and Saturn fell 10 places.
And what are we to make of Porsche. The German sports car maker has been yo-yoing these past couple of years. Last year Porsche gained 20 spots and this year Porsche fell 10.
Finally, if you are thinking about buying a hybrid and are worried about reliability, the study suggests you have nothing to fret about.
"A lot of people are worried about hybrid vehicles' being unreliable, having battery problems," Champion says. That's not the case. Most hybrids are more reliable than their non-hybrid counterparts. Some, the 2001 Prius and the 2000 Honda Insight especially, are going strong still.
Ford is just months away from launching its new Fusion hybrid sedan. Looks like this reliability study came at a very good time for Ford.