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Cadillac
The Cadillac Escalade was rated among the worst in both overall value and safety performance.
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updated 4/14/2010 4:42:20 PM ET 2010-04-14T20:42:20

With a 22 percent improvement in sales last month, and despite the six-month, $4.3-billion loss it announced last week, General Motors is likely to have its strongest spring and summer in years. Plus, the automaker had critically acclaimed new products at the recent New York Auto Show and the much-anticipated Chevrolet Volt is due out this fall.

Year-over-year sales of GM's Cadillac division alone are up almost 76 percent; sales in the Buick, Chevrolet and GMC divisions were each up more than 40 percent for March. The industry as a whole was up 24.3 percent.

Unfortunately just because GM's cars are selling well now doesn't mean they're the best bet for durability or value — yet. It'll take awhile before GM's new direction shows up in tangible new products at the dealership.

Four of the seven vehicles on our list of the worst-made cars on the road come from GM brands. And all of the cars on the list — including Chrysler's Dodge Nitro and Jeep Wrangler — are made by Detroit's Big Three. Only one car on the list is made by Ford Motor.

To determine our list of the worst-made cars on the road, we started with the lowest-rated vehicles from four reliability and performance studies conducted this year. Those studies are all from Consumer Reports: The Most Reliable Cars Report; Best and Worst Values Report; Best and Worst Safety Performance Survey; and the CR overall scores for 2010 vehicles.

We then added to the list any vehicles that received fewer than three out of five power circles in this year's Vehicle Dependability Study from J.D. Power and Associates. Any car, truck or SUV named among the worst in at least three of those five total studies made the final cut to be on the "Worst-Made" list.

The biggest surprise on the list, given recent automotive news: It includes no Toyota-made vehicles. In fact, Toyota reported a 40.7 percent gain in sales last month over March 2009; its Lexus division was up 42 percent. (Generous buyer incentives greatly contributed to those numbers.) And although Consumer Reports has removed its "recommended pick" distinction from Toyota vehicles involved in the current recall, many analysts are standing by their previous assessments of Toyota's well-made products.

"Toyota and Lexus both were fairly steady on their quality" in the dependability report released last month, says Dave Sargent, J.D. Power's vice president of global vehicle research. "Toyota has both good quality and a high consumer perception of their quality — so Toyota is very much in line."

GM's Chevrolet hasn't fared as well. Overall sales at Chevrolet are up, but sales of the $16,985 Chevrolet Colorado were down 21.9 percent year-over-year. Sales of the truck are down 32.2 percent for the year to date.

The $11,965 Chevrolet Aveo made our list too — but probably won't in the very near future. When the 2012 Aveo comes out next year, it'll feature styling improvements (large vents in the front, 19'' wheels, circular headlights) and performance upgrades (likely a 1.4-liter, four-cylinder turbo-boosted engine with 138 horsepower and a six-speed manual transmission). Early photos and speculation from experts like Jake Fisher, the senior automotive engineer at Consumer Reports, indicate it'll hold its own against Nissan's Versa and Honda's Fit — two reliable, affordable, strong sellers.

Aside from the Aveo, though, most of the worst-made cars on our list aren't cars at all — they're trucks and SUVs. Besides the Colorado, GMC's $16,985 Canyon and Ford's $28,020 F-250 received some of the lowest scores of any vehicles we considered. The Canyon SLE, for instance, was listed by Consumer Reports as one of the worst values of any 2010 vehicle and as one of the least reliable new vehicles on the market this year. It received just two out of five power circles on J.D. Power's overall dependability rating.

The F-250 Lariat earned both the "worst value" and "worst safety performance" distinctions from Consumer Reports this year. It received an overall score of just 37 out of 100 points for predicted reliability, fuel economy, depreciation, ride, owner costs, accident avoidance, front-seat comfort, acceleration and owner satisfaction.

Trucks aren't inherently less dependable or worse-made vehicles, analysts say. Dan Hall, vice president of automotive consulting firm Auto Pacific, says they rate no differently in consumer satisfaction surveys than cars.

But in the past they have fallen behind in engineering upgrades and safety improvements, because automakers focus on improving "family-oriented" vehicles first, says Russ Rader, a director at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "They're just being updated at a slower rate."

Jamie Hresko, the vice president of global quality for General Motors, says that’s not the case anymore — and consumers can expect to see tangible changes as soon as they get in the car.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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