Detroit's former "Big Three" -- Ford, GM and Chrysler -- are on a roll thanks to new products and improved quality but they still lag behind the Japanese, the 2012 U.S. Dependability Survey released last week by J.D. Power & Associates indicates.
The survey looks at how vehicles hold up during their first 36 months on the road.
The winner for most dependable vehicles was Lexus, the luxury brand of Japan's Toyota, which replaced Lincoln at the top of the heap. Lincoln fell to No. 7 in the latest survey. In fact, the only U.S. brand in the Top 5 was GM's Cadillac, which improved to third.
"Despite facing immense challenges in 2009, automakers placed a keen focus on delivering outstanding levels of quality, which they understood would be essential to their long-term success," J.D. Power vice president of global automotive David Sargent said.
"Three years later, owners of these models are enjoying unprecedented levels of vehicle dependability and manufacturers are experiencing market recovery. This is good news both for owners -- who are holding onto their vehicles for longer than ever -- and manufactures, since perception of quality and dependability is a critical factor in vehicle purchase decisions."
The average passenger car in the United States is 11.1 years old, and dependability is paramount since the owners of those aging vehicles want to avoid constant repair bills. The longer a new vehicle can go with only routine maintenance the better, and millions of potential buyers will be checking out how their potential future vehicles have held up.
Ford led American brands at No. 8, an improvement of four positions from 2011, but Chrysler, whose sales have soared on the strength of its "Made in Detroit" ad campaign, dropped to No. 32 even though 2009 Dodges, Jeeps and Ram trucks had fewer problems per 100 vehicles than 2008 models.
"These results are based on cars sold three years ago," Doug Bets, senior vice president for quality at ChryslerGroup LLC, told The Detroit News. "Since that time, we have made significant changes to our product lineup and everything else about our company's structure and the way it develops cars."
The study found overall dependability averaged 132 problems per 100 vehicles, an improvement of 13 percent. Germany's Porsche ranked No. 2 trailing only Lexus, followed by Cadillac, Toyota, Scion, Mercedes-Benz, Lincoln, Ford, Buick, Hyundai, Acura, Honda, Chevrolet, Volvo, Audi, smart, Subaru, Nissan, Mitsubishi, BMW, GMC, Mini, Mazda, Suzuki, Kia, Volkswagen, Infinity, Jaguar, Ram, Jeep, Dodge and Chrysler.
GM reports record profit
General Motors Co. reported a record $7.6 billion profit for 2011, compared to $4.7 billion a year earlier, but the bottom line would have been rosier if fourth-quarter sales in Europe had kept pace.
GM made $500 million in the final quarter of 2011, about the same as the final four months of 2010, the company said. However, earnings of 39 cents per share disappointed Wall Street analysts who had forecast 41 cents per share.
"In our first full year as a public company, we grew the top and bottom lines, advanced our global market share and made strategic investments in our brands around the world," GM Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson said in a statement Thursday.
Akerson said GM would build on its successful cars, crossovers and trucks, make changes to money losing operations in economically stressed Europe and improve sales in South America.
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