updated 6/19/2006 11:21:07 AM ET 2006-06-19T15:21:07

U.S. automakers are producing more hits with cars, but are facing steeper competition in trucks, an area they once dominated, according to a vehicle quality study released Monday.

The domestic Big Three had the top-scoring vehicles in five out of 10 car categories in the annual vehicle quality study by Strategic Vision Inc., a San Diego-based market research firm and consultant to automakers. A notable winner was the Ford Fusion, which prevailed in the medium car category.

In trucks, Japanese companies took six out of 10 categories. The winners included the Honda Odyssey for minivan and the Nissan Armada for large SUV.

Detroit is "playing catch-up, but the competition is moving ahead at the same time," said Daniel Gorrell, vice president of Strategic Vision. "The imports are really developing a strong foothold in the truck market."

The study, which factors in emotional reactions to vehicles, as well as defects and design issues, found BMW to be the top brand, followed closely by Lexus.

BMW's ranking contrasted sharply to a better-known quality report by J.D. Power and Associates. That study, released earlier this month, found a high number of complaints about BMW for design, particularly its iDrive system, which operates many different controls through a single knob.

Gorrell called iDrive "a mistake." But, he added, "that's not the total experience people have with BMW."

When it came to the Fusion, a key vehicle in Ford Motor Co.'s comeback strategy, a variety of attributes — particularly styling, roominess, quiet and dealership experience _ prompted owners to give it high marks.

General Motors Corp. had five winners, though most were lower-volume models, including the Chevrolet Corvette and the Saturn Vue. Three of the company's largest sellers, the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, the GMC Sierra 1500 and the Chevrolet Impala, scored below average in their segments.

DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group won in the large car segment with the Dodge Charger and the medium crossover category with the Dodge Magnum.

For the Japanese manufacturers, the reliability they are known for was only one element in their success, Gorrell said.

For instance, the Toyota Tacoma, which won for compact pickup, and the 4Runner, which took first place for medium sport utility vehicle, got a boost from superior styling, he said. Meanwhile, the Odyssey and the Honda Ridgeline (full-size pickup) benefited from power, roominess and innovation.

The study, which is paid for by most of the automakers, has been conducted since 1995. For the 2006 study, Strategic Vision surveyed more than 29,000 people on vehicles purchased in October and November.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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