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Ford Explorer ranks among lowest scoring models in reliability survey

Detroit — Ford Motor Co. was hit with more bad news Thursday, thanks to the problematic launch of its Ford Explorer.

Ford's namesake Blue Oval brand placed 22nd in the latest Annual Auto Reliability Survey from Consumer Reports, down six spots from last year. The luxury Lincoln brand placed last at 26th, down 11 spots.

The 2020 Auto Reliability Surveys are based on data collected from Consumer Reports members about their experiences with more than 300,000 vehicles. The survey findings were announced at an online news conference before the Detroit-based Automotive Press Association.

Ford Motor Co., President, Global Markets Jim Farley and team members stand next to the redesigned 2020 Ford Explorer during its unveiling, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, in Detroit.

Among new or redesigned vehicles, 44% have much-worse-than-average reliability. But as issues are worked out, reliability improves over time.

The Explorer was one of the lowest scoring models from any manufacturer — foreign or domestic. Owners reported to Consumer Reports the need for transmission replacements, along with drive system, in-car electronics, power equipment and engine and body hardware issues. 

In a statement to The Detroit News, Ford spokesman Mike Levine said: "Each vehicle launch is unique. In this case, the transformation at Chicago Assembly to build Explorer was one of the most complex in the company’s history.

"Since launching Explorer, we have been relentless on improving its quality and our quality processes at the plant. Our most recent internal surveys show that we have improved Explorer quality to where our customers expect."

Ford has been battling the ramifications of the botched Explorer launch since last year. The Dearborn automaker's profits dipped 99% in 2019 because of the troubled launch. A rushed production caused long delays and SUVs with faulty seats, loose wiring harnesses and digital displays with buggy software.

Meanwhile, Ford's F-250 and F-350 pickups, Expedition, Fusion, and Mustang were all ranked average. The Edge was Ford’s only model to score above average. 

Lincoln ranked low because its brand-new SUVs share platforms with their problematic Ford peers, Consumer Reports said. The luxury brand was also hurt by its decision to discontinue the Continental and MKZ, which had been reliable sedans.

"A car might be great to drive and have all the features you want, but all that won't matter to you much if you have to keep going back to the dealer for repairs,” said Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at Consumer Reports in a statement. “We use extensive feedback from owners to help you avoid hassles by choosing a reliable car."

General Motors Co.'s Buick brand was the most reliable domestic vehicle brand this year. Buick ranked fourth overall in this year's survey, up 14 spots from last year, the largest jump any brand saw in the survey. It still fell behind Japanese brands Mazda, Toyota and Lexus. 

GM's other brands, Chevrolet, GMC and Cadillac, ranked 16th, 17th and 21st, respectively. 

The GMC Acadia, Terrain, and Sierra 2500 HD had average or better reliability, but the Sierra 1500 pickup truck remained well-below average. Owners told Consumer Reports that the display screen required hardware replacement, and the truck had transmission problems.

Chevrolet remains in the bottom half of the rankings, but did move up eight positions from last year. Consumers said the all-electric Bolt is a bright spot as Chevy’s most reliable vehicle. The Silverado, GM's profit maker, had problems similar to the GMC Sierra’s. 

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV's Ram truck brand ranked seventh overall. But its two models, both redesigned for 2019, have differing reports. The 1500 pickup was below average for issues with electronics — screen replacements, headlights, body control modules, gauges and engine computers. The 2500 heavy duty truck's reliability was well-above-average.

The Dodge brand came in 10th place. Jeep ranked 19th overall, the lowest of the FCA brands. But the Gladiator had a high reliability score, outpacing competitors such as the Honda Ridgeline in compact pickups. 

Mazda ranked at the top of Consumer Reports reliability list for the first time ever this year. Historically, Toyota and Lexus held the top spot. Mazda has redesigned models conservatively, avoiding the introduction of risky new powertrains and infotainment systems.

Tesla Inc. is now second from the bottom among all 26 ranked brands. It was pulled lower by the newly-introduced Model Y SUV, which has a below average reliability ranking.

khall@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @bykaleahall