Canada is losing out on new automotive investment, but Canadian workers are winning a reputation for building quality vehicles.
A Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc. plant in Cambridge, Ont., led the global rankings in the widely watched annual survey by J.D. Power and Associates that measures vehicle quality. The General Motors of Canada Ltd. plant in Ingersoll, Ont., placed second in North America, and Canadian-built vehicles placed first in five out of 23 categories.
"Those Canadians know something about building cars," Dave Sargent, the consulting firm's vice-president of vehicle research, told a meeting of the Automotive Press Association in Detroit on Wednesday.
The annual survey of vehicle quality comes while safety issues are front and centre in the industry amid massive recalls by General Motors Co., which have led to U.S. congressional hearings and other examinations of why it took the auto maker nearly a decade to react to faulty ignition switches that led to 13 deaths.
Quality problems overall increased last year to 116 for every 100 vehicles from the 2014 model year, compared with 113 for 100 cars and trucks a year earlier.
Recalls are a poor measure of vehicle quality, Mr. Sargent noted, pointing instead to consumer complaints about voice recognition systems in particular and in the U.S. Northeast and Midwest, weather-related problems because of the severe winter. U.S. drivers griped about heated seats that didn't warm up quickly enough and heating systems that were slow to clear windshields.
Workers at Toyota's Cambridge plant build the RX luxury crossover. Survey responses from about 86,000 new owners showed just 12 problems reported for every 100 vehicles.
Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain crossovers built by workers in Ingersoll were the subject of 20 complaints for every 100 drivers. They were the highest-rated vehicles in the compact sport utility vehicle segment.
Among other vehicle segments, the Dodge Challenger sports car and Chrysler Town & Country minivan built at Chrysler Group LLC plants in Brampton, Ont., and Windsor, Ont., respectively, were ranked highest.
The Ford Edge built in Oakville, Ont., topped the mid-sized SUV category and the Lincoln version of that model, the MKX, also built in Oakville, captured the mid-sized premium SUV crown.
Brian Krinock, president of Toyota Motor Canada, said the Toyota mantra of continuous improvement has enabled the plant to reduce the number of complaints four of the past five years.
"That tells us we're consistent about our approach; we're consistent about our activities," Mr. Krinock said.
He receives warranty data every day that shows what issues consumers have with the RX and the Toyota Corolla, Toyota Matrix and RAV4 models produced in Cambridge and another Toyota plant in Woodstock, Ont.
That data helps identify "what are those top issues, what are we doing about it and how are we going to try to fix it," he said.
Mr. Sargent said auto makers need to pay attention to the quality scores because they show up later when consumers buy replacement vehicles.
Among consumers who bought vehicles with zero problems in the first 90 days of ownership, 57 per cent will buy a replacement vehicle of the same brand, he noted.
"Quality has a direct and meaningful impact on subsequent loyalty," he said.
It costs an individual auto maker hundreds of millions of dollars to win back customers who have abandoned a brand, he said.