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2010 Honda Fit Sport (Honda)
2010 Honda Fit Sport (Honda)

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What customers want: Quality, quality and quality Add to ...

Quality, quality, quality. This should be the mantra repeated over and over inside every car company. Because if you want to win in the car business, you need to build cars that not only don't break, but that also make life easier for owners. Cars that surprise and delight them.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Take Jaguar. Last year Jaguar landed in a tie with Buick atop J.D. Power and Associates Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS). Nice victory. Jaguar and Buick edged Toyota's Lexus brand from first place for the first time in 14 years.

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And it was nice while it lasted. In this year's VDS, Jaguar plunged to 23rd place. Ruling the VDS world in 2010 is Porsche, the German sports car brand that is part of the giant Volkswagen Group. Porsche had 110 problems per 100 vehicles. Lincoln was second with 114 problems per 100 vehicles, followed by Buick and Lexus in a tie with 115 problems per 100 vehicles.

The Globe Drive Quality List

Compact - Sporty: Mazda MX-5
IN PICTURES: Globe Drive ranks the best cars and trucks in each category

"The 911, the Boxster and the Cayman all performed well," said Dave Sargent, vice president of automotive research at J. D. Power, in releasing the results earlier this year. "The 911 is one of the better vehicles in the industry." It also helps that the 911 represents 60 per cent of Porsche's sales.

After Buick and Lexus came Mercury with 121 problems per 100, then Toyota with 128, Honda with 132, Ford with 141, Mercedes-Benz with 142, Acura with 143, Hyundai with 148, Cadillac with 150, Infiniti with 150 and Subaru with 155, which is the industry average. All other brands were below that industry average.

Car buyers as a group, of course, watch quality closely. According to Consumer Reports, quality is the No. 1 factor than can influence a new car buyer to change brands. CR asked respondents to rank 13 factors that could influence them to change car brands. Three quarters said quality, followed by better fuel economy (73 per cent), lower price (67 per cent), better safety record (65 per cent), more standard equipment (62 per cent) and better overall reputation (61 per cent).

"Overall, these survey respondents are attracted to the highest quality and most value for the money," notes CR in reporting the research. "But it's clear that car owners are being pragmatic in their approach to their next new car. The reigning influences are those that can save money up front, at the pump, and in the long run."

If CR's research holds, then Toyota should be concerned. Toyota suffered a dramatic drop in another closely watched automotive-quality study, J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study (IQS). In the 2010 study, Toyota was rated below average, falling to 21st place from seventh the year before. Toyota trailed several Detroit-based nameplates it has traditionally bested, including Ford, Cadillac, Chevrolet and Lincoln.

As almost everyone knows, the Toyota brand has been a perennial leader in the IQS, but the company's reputation has been hurt this year by a massive global recall related to issues around sticky accelerator pedals, problematic floor mats and a number of other defects not related to cars that owners say accelerate on their own.

Meanwhile, Ford posted one of the top scores and was ranked fifth overall. Only four luxury brands ranked higher than Ford. Porsche ranked first in the survey, with only 83 complaints per 100 vehicles. It was followed by Honda Motor's Acura brand, Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz and Toyota's Lexus division. Ford had 93 problems per 100 vehicles, a slight improvement over 2009, when it ranked eighth and owners found 102 problems in every 100 vehicles.

"We've really been working hard on this," said Bill Ford Jr., the company's chairman. He was speaking at a conference in New York. After Ford came Honda, Hyundai, Lincoln, Nissan's Motor's Infiniti, and Volvo. All finished better than the industry average of 109 issues per 100 vehicles.

Not to be lost in all this is Consumer Reports, which itself rates auto makers based on the results of vehicle testing and subscriber feedback about reliability. In CR's last quality reports, Honda and Subaru earned class leader status for building the best all-around vehicles for North American drivers.

Which cars rank highest?

Subcompact: Honda Fit
Globe Drive, J.D. Power, and Consumer Reports rankings listed here

CR's Automaker Report Card is part of the Annual Auto Issue and can also be found online. For the fourth consecutive year Honda topped CR's list and was in a tie with Subaru with an overall score of 77 out of 100 points. Toyota with a score of 74 came next, though at the time the study was released, CR temporarily suspended recommending eight recalled Toyota models.

Next came Hyundai (73) and Nissan and Volkswagen tied at (72) in overall score. CR says that although the best vehicles overall are being built by Honda and Subaru, South Korean car maker Hyundai, and its subsidiary, Kia, continue to show the most dramatic improvement in the entire industry.

While eliminating problems remains the central focus of every auto maker's quality efforts, new car buyers also put stock in assessing vehicles based on what you might call "things gone right." Owner delight is not to be overlooked, says J.D. Power and Associates, which each year conducts a consumer study that attempts to measure owner enthusiasm and satisfaction.

This year, the biggest improvement in this area of so-called owner appeal showed up in high-performance models from Ford Motor and General Motors, according to the 2010 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout Study (APEAL).

However, for the sixth year in a row, Porsche was the No. 1 brand in the APEAL study and the Mercedes-Benz S-class sedan received the highest score of any model. The top 12 brands were all premium nameplates. Lincoln was the highest-ranked domestic brand, followed closely by Cadillac.

For today's new vehicle buyers, knowing what the various studies represent and what they say about quality can be helpful in narrowing the field of choices. At Globe Drive we thought it might be interesting to look at these four research studies to find vehicles with high levels of quality in more than one study. Hardly scientific, perhaps, but interesting nonetheless.

We looked at the studies and from them created a list of vehicles which this year have shown up in at least two of the four research efforts. It may be a stretch to call them the best quality cars in the world, but in assessing the list we'd be surprised if anyone failed to agree that like them or not, all of these are very, very good vehicles.

The Globe Drive Quality List

Compact - Sporty: Mazda MX-5
IN PICTURES: Globe Drive ranks the best cars and trucks in each category

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