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Luxury vehicles dominate total quality survey

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Luxury vehicles dominate total quality survey

By Tom Krisher, AP Auto Writer
DETROIT — Luxury brands once again dominated an annual U.S. automobile quality survey taken this year by a California research company, but total quality dropped for the first time in four years, the company said.

BMW led all brands in the survey by San Diego-based Strategic Vision, followed closely by Hummer, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Infiniti, Lexus, Land Rover, Cadillac, Lincoln and Volkswagen.

VW, which includes Audi, led all corporations with a total quality index score of 892 out of 1,000 possible points. General Motors (GM) finished second as a corporation at 867, followed by Ford Motor (F) and Honda (HMC), which tied for third at 862. Toyota (TM) finished fifth, at the industry average of 860.

VW, GM and Ford were the only corporations showing improvement in this year's survey.

To get the rankings, Strategic Vision calculated the index based on survey questions about reliability, vehicle characteristics, dealership experience, styling, interior and exterior design and their overall perception of initial quality, said Alexander Edwards, president of the company's automotive division.

Each of the people answering the survey had to have owned their vehicles for two to three months so they could adequately judge them, Edwards said.

Edwards said overall industry quality dropped from 864 points in 2007 to 860 this year, the first drop since the 2004 survey.

The decline came because some vehicles fell short of customers' technology expectations, he said. For example, many thought their cars should have a simple, low-cost navigation system or keyless entry, he said. But companies were reluctant to add cost to cars, fearing the predicted industry downturn in 2008, Edwards said.

"Our position here with the technology is they didn't take things as far as they needed to go," he said.

Ford had five vehicles with the highest scores in the 19 market segments measured by Strategic Vision, while Toyota had four. The two companies tied in one other category.

Toyota's Yaris subcompact, 4Runner midsize sport-utility vehicle and Sequoia large SUV were winners, as was the Scion xB small multifunction vehicle. Toyota's Lexus RX 350 tied with Ford's Land Rover LR2 in the near-luxury SUV category.

As a corporation, Honda had the lowest percentage of people who reported problems with their vehicles at 19%, followed closely by Ford at 20% and Toyota at 21. Nissan and BMW tied at 24.

Strategic Vision said it developed the rankings from surveys taken of 20,655 people who bought new cars in September, October and November of last year. About 200,000 surveys were mailed out, and Edwards said the survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 scale points.

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