May 15, 2013 at 12:15 PM ET
After lagging behind their import rivals in terms of quality and reliability, Detroit auto makers have started closing the gap in recent years – and a new study suggests that domestic models may even be taking the lead in many key market segments.
Motown manufacturers led or at least tied for the lead in 12 of 21 categories in Strategic Vision’s closely watched Total Quality Index, with the Ford Fusion and Dodge Dart besting traditional imports such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Civic.
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“There's no questioning domestic car makers want to lead,” said Alexander Edwards, president of Strategic Vision. “For the first time in over a decade our comprehensive and complete study of Quality resulted in more domestic winners than imports.”
Edwards quickly noted that the imports remain “a force to be reckoned with” – Toyota had three segment winners with the Tacoma pickup, FJ Cruiser utility vehicle, and premium Lexus LS sedan. Volkswagen remained the best overall corporation for the eighth consecutive year, and Audi and Lexus tied for honors as best individual brand.
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“Domestics are running in the tight race also, and it's now forcing all manufacturers to build the most superior, innovative and holistically Quality vehicles possible to gain the hearts and minds of the customer,” Edwards said.
The Total Quality Index, or TQI, measures how different vehicles, brands and manufacturers perform based on 155 different aspects of quality and customer perception. Unlike more traditional quality studies that might focus only on things gone wrong, the index examines how satisfying individual vehicles are to own – factors often described as things gone right.
That boosts some models that don’t normally show up in quality studies – or on the top of the sales charts, such as the Chrysler 200, which tied for the top spot among convertibles, and the Honda Crosstour, the winner in the midsize multi-function category.
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General Motors’ slow-selling Chevrolet Volt, meanwhile, tied with the Ford Fusion as best midsize car. Significantly, GM logged six winners: the Buick Enclave, Chevy Traverse, Corvette and Avalanche, and the GMC Yukon. The Corvette Convertible had a score of 959 points, the highest of all individual models, besting even the Lexus LS and Porsche Boxster.
For brands, Audi and Lexus topped the list, followed by Mini, Cadillac, BMW, Mercedes, Lincoln, Jaguar, Infiniti and Buick.
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While quality and reliability clearly played a role in the outcome of the 2013 Total Quality Index, good design, roominess, comfort and features were also quite significant, according to Strategic Visions researchers. Audi, for example, was ranked high because of its performance and styling.
The strong performance of the domestics clearly reflects the increased emphasis Detroit makers have placed on both quality and customer satisfaction, according to Edwards. But while they may be doing a “terrific job,” he cautioned that it will take some work to win over consumers who might not even consider domestic models anymore.
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“Their challenge,” Edwards stressed, will be “to communicate the positive attributes of their products," to get import-oriented buyers back into domestic showrooms.
The index winners by segment, model and score:
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