Image: Honda Civic
Honda
The Honda Civic, the highest-ranked quality compact car in the J.D. Power study, outsold the Ford F-Series pickup truck as the month's best-selling vehicle in May.
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updated 6/19/2008 3:26:51 PM ET 2008-06-19T19:26:51

Sharply rising gas prices have forced many motorists to make sacrifices in other parts of their lives. But they don't have to compromise on car quality when seeking better fuel economy, according to the results of an Initial Quality Study released today by J.D. Power and Associates, a global marketing information company headquartered in California.

"The difference between small cars today and 10 years ago is night and day," says David Sargent, J.D. Power's vice president of automotive research. "Small cars are improving; there are more and more good-quality small cars on the market today. We are seeing this across the board."

That's good news for consumers who, in May of this year, snubbed large, gas-guzzling vehicles for more fuel-efficient small and mid-size cars. For the first time since December 1992, a car upstaged a truck as the top-selling vehicle in the U.S. The Honda Civic, the highest-ranked quality compact car in the J.D. Power study, outsold the Ford F-Series pickup truck as the month's best-selling vehicle. Consumers bought 53,299 Civics in May, up 28 percent from May 2007; they bought 42,973 F-150 pickups, down 31 percent from May 2007.

And consumers are pleased with the overall quality of these smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. On fuel economy specifically, owners of more fuel-efficient cars reported fewer concerns with meeting their cars' advertised fuel efficiency while owners of large vehicles reported more. Overall, hybrid owners were happy with their cars' fuel consumption, though some commented that the fuel economy they experienced didn't meet their high expectations.

This marked shift to more fuel-efficient cars spells bad news for automakers like Ford Motor, Chrysler and General Motors, all of which invested heavily in large sport-utility vehicles and pickups in the past several years, when gas prices were much lower. But gas has topped $4.00 a gallon in many cities across the nation; GM announced this week that it will close four truck and SUV plants in North America in response to rising fuel costs and increased demand for compact cars and crossover vehicles.

There are some bright spots for the beleaguered automaker, however. GM's Chevrolet Malibu is the highest-ranked quality mid-size car in the J.D. Power study. GM redesigned the Malibu in 2008, and did well with the initial vehicle launch (sales were up 103 percent in May from the same period in 2007). Sargent says automakers typically don't do well with launching a new vehicle with few problems, and tend to improve the model over the next couple years. That wasn't the case for the Malibu, he says: "They got it right first time out of the box." The Malibu is also available as a hybrid.

Following the Malibu in the mid-size car segment are the Mitsubishi Galant in second place and then the Ford Fusion in third.

J.D. Power Associates surveyed 81,500 purchasers and lessees of new 2008 model-year cars and trucks, after 90 days of ownership, between February and April of 2008. Vehicles with less than 100 respondents were not included for ranking. In the sub-compact car and compact sporty car segment there were seven vehicles that were eligible for ranking; 20 in the compact car segment; 17 in the mid-size car category.

The highest-ranked sub-compact car for quality is the Honda Fit, followed by the Kia Rio and the Hyundai Accent. The highest-ranked compact sporty car is the Mazda MX-5 Miata, followed by the Subaru Impreza and Pontiac Solstice.

The Toyota Prius and Hyundai Elantra sedan rounded out the compact-car segment led by the Honda Civic.

J.D. Power forecasts that 28 new compact-vehicle models will launch by 2010, and "it will be particularly important for manufacturers to ensure high initial quality in these launches."

© 2012 Forbes.com

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