U.S. automakers, led by Ford Motor Co., plunged in this year's closely watched J.D. Power and Associates' Initial Quality Study of new vehicles while Toyota's Lexus brand topped the list.
Lexus' top-selling LS sedan had the fewest problems reported by new car purchasers in the past year. Honda, Acura, Mercedes-Benz and Mazda were next in having the fewest initial problems.
Ford, which has seen a resurgence in sales in the past several years, had a dismal performance, falling to No. 23 from fifth place last year, mainly based on problems with the in-dash, touch-screen monitors found on many of its Ford and Lincoln models. Still, Ford didn't score as low in quality as bottom-rated Dodge, Mitsubishi and Suzuki
Automakers are increasingly loading their cars with technology that boosts mileage and offers new features; and consumers are finding them frustratingly difficult to use.
"Clearly, consumers are interested in having new technology in their vehicles, but automakers must ensure that the technology is ready for prime time," David Sargent, vice president of global vehicle research at J.D. Power, said in a statement. "Successful companies will be those that can take this incredibly complex technology and make it reliable, seamless and easy for owners to operate while they are driving. There is an understandable desire to bring these technologies to market quickly, but automakers must be careful to walk before they run."
Toyota moved up to No. 7 from No. 22 after problems the previous year with gas pedals being stuck under loose floor mats that prompted a recall.
Consumers reported more dissatisfaction with newly launched or significantly overhauled vehicles, causing ratings overall to drop 10 percent this year, J.D. Power reported.
"Exciting models with the latest features are crucial for winning over today's demanding consumers," Sargent said. "However, automakers must not lose their focus on the importance of these models also achieving exceptional quality levels.
"Expected reliability continues to be the single-most-important reason why new-vehicle buyers choose one model over another, and no manufacturer can afford to give consumers any doubts regarding the quality of their latest products."