"Domestic automakers have made impressive strides in steadily improving vehicle quality, particularly since 2007," said David Sargent, vice president of global vehicle research at J.D. Power. )
Detroit -- American automakers have beaten their foreign rivals for the first time ever in J.D. Power and Associates' influential survey of initial vehicle quality released today.
Ford edged out Japan's Honda to claim first place among non-luxury brands, and Toyota fell to the middle of the pack after a series of recalls undermined its once-stellar rating.
However, for the first time in years, the average number of problems per 100 vehicles in the first 90 days edged up slightly for the industry as a whole, from 108 in 2009 to 109 this year. Domestic brands bucked that trend: their average decreased by four to 108, putting them ahead of the imports, which averaged 109.
"Domestic automakers have made impressive strides in steadily improving vehicle quality, particularly since 2007," said David Sargent, vice president of global vehicle research at J.D. Power.
"This year may mark a key turning point for U.S. brands as they continue to fight the battle against lingering negative perceptions of their quality."
Ford Motor Co. had the highest quality ratings of any U.S. manufacturer. Its Blue Oval brand came in fifth, with 93 problems per 100 vehicles, making it the highest rated non-luxury brand. Last year, Ford came in eighth.
Ford's Lincoln brand placed seventh with 106, the highest rating of any American luxury brand.
"Steady and meticulous attention to new model launches, along with consistency in how we do them across the brand and the globe, are having a very positive effect on the initial quality of our all-new or redesigned products," said Bennie Fowler, Ford's group vice president in charge of global quality.
A dozen Ford models ranked in the top three in their respective segments this year -- more than any other automaker. Ford products earned top honors in three segments, tying Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus brand.
"The Blue Oval is becoming synonymous with high quality," he said. "While we are pleased with where we are today, our job is not done. Our plan is to keep improving quality each and every year."
Ford was not the only domestic manufacturer that improved in this year's ratings.
General Motors Co. had 10 models in the top three of their segments. Cadillac and Chevrolet were GM's highest-rated brands, both with 111 problems per 100 vehicles. Chevrolet was the leader in two segments.
But Chrysler Group LLC posted some even more surprising gains. Its Ram truck brand came in just below the industry average, with 110 problems per 100 vehicles. It was, however, the first year that its trucks were rated separately from Dodge cars, and Dodge remained the worst-rated U.S. brand.
Just as surprising as the domestics' gains was Toyota's tumble. It fell from sixth position in 2009 to 21st in 2010, with its average number of problems increasing by 16 per 100 new vehicles.
"Clearly, Toyota has endured a difficult year," Sargent said. "Recent consumer concerns regarding Toyota's quality are reflected in the nameplate's performance in the 2010 study. That said, Toyota's success was built on a well-deserved reputation for quality, and there is little doubt that they will do everything possible to regain that reputation."
The 2010 study is based on responses from more than 82,000 purchasers and lessees of new 2010 model-year vehicles surveyed after three months' ownership, conducted between February and May of this year.
Porsche was the highest-rated brand, with 83 problems per 100 vehicles; Land Rover was the worst, with 170.