Image: Scion
Toyota  /  AP
The study, topped by Scion, surveyed more than 1.4 million Consumer Reports subscribers in the spring, covering model years 1999 to 2008.
updated 10/23/2008 6:30:47 PM ET 2008-10-23T22:30:47

Toyota Motor Corp.’s Scion brand topped the list of most reliable cars in Consumer Reports’ annual vehicle reliability rankings released Thursday, as Asian automakers continued to crowd the top of the magazine’s rankings.

Meanwhile, Chrysler LLC vehicles saw their scores fall sharply from 2007, while Ford Motor Co.’s nameplates gained ground over their Detroit rivals.

“Scion has a portfolio of three fairly small, fairly well equipped vehicles,” said David Champion, director of Consumer Reports’ auto test center. “It’s a basic form of transport, but put together well.”

The study compiled responses from Consumer Reports readers for more than 1.4 million vehicles this spring, using the results to predict reliability of 2009 models. The results are closely watched by automakers because of their influence on car buyers.

In this year’s study, Honda Motor Co.’s Acura and Honda lines ranked right behind Scion, followed by the Toyota nameplate and Toyota’s luxury brand, Lexus. Asian names occupied all of the magazine’s top 10 slots, with a domestic automaker not appearing on the list until No. 11 with Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln brand.

Toyota spokesman Xavier Dominicis said Toyota was pleased to see Scion — which just launched two 2008 models, the xB and the xD — top the list.

“Generally speaking, when a vehicle first launches, that’s when you’re more apt to have any issues that need to be worked out, and this is a vehicle that came right out of the gate and earned this praise right away,” Dominicis said.

Champion noted that Ford nameplates have pulled ahead of their Detroit rivals this year, with nearly all Ford products carrying average-or-better rankings, with the exception of some of its truck-based vehicles. In addition, the Ford Focus sedan has been vastly improved since its 2000 debut, Consumer Reports said, and the car was ranked No. 4 for most reliable family vehicles.

“Ford’s vehicles, especially their car-based vehicles, have all been exceptionally good in terms of reliability year after year,” Champion said.

Mark Fields, Ford’s president of the Americas, said the rankings are further affirmation of the changes the company has made to improve its vehicles, particularly in drive quality, electrical function and quietness.

“Being neck and neck with Toyota and Honda is satisfying for us,” Fields said. But he added that topping General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC isn’t enough. “We have our eye squarely on becoming the leader in the industry.”

Consumer Reports called GM cars a “mixed bag,” with bright spots being the redesigned above-average Chevrolet Malibu. The Buick Lucerne V-8 and Pontiac G6 are also came in above average, but a quarter of GM models came in below average.

Chrysler vehicles, on the other hand, clustered near the bottom of the rankings, with nearly two-thirds of its lineup below average. The Chrysler Sebring was Consumer Reports’ worst-rated car, coming in at 283 percent below average.

“I believe the introduction of some of their new models were not fully developed, and they hadn’t worked out all the bugs before they came up,” Champion said.

He said recent changes at Chrysler may have contributed to poor quality ratings. Germany’s Daimler AG sold an 80.1 percent stake in Chrysler to private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP last year. Now, Cerberus appears to be in talks to sell the automaker, possibly to GM.

Chrysler spokeswoman Beverly Thacker said the automaker was dissatisfied with its performance and will work “aggressively to improve every aspect of customer satisfaction.”

“We do have pockets of success that demonstrates we can meet our customers’ expectations,” Thacker said in a statement. “The Dodge Caliber and Jeep Patriot were rated above average.”

To calculate its reliability ratings, Consumer Reports averages the overall reliability scores from readers for the most recent three model years. If a model has fewer than three model years, than it uses data from as many years as are available.

Consumer Reports’ reliability issue is scheduled to hit newsstands Nov. 11. The magazine is published by the nonprofit Consumers Union, based in Yonkers, N.Y.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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