Toyota's safety troubles appear to be spilling over to manufacturing quality as it tumbled from 6th to 21st place in this year's J.D. Power and Associates' annual Initial Quality Survey.
Porsche -- its Panamera is shown above -- was the top brand overall in fewest initial defects per vehicle. It was followed by Acura, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota's Lexus brand.
But Ford-brand vehicles came next, breaking into the top 5 for the first time in the study's 24 years. And in another first, the Detroit makers collectively beat imports, as Power hailed them in the study for their quality gains.
At the bottom with most defects: Land Rover, far behind the next worst-scorers, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen.
The study, the most-watched survey in the industry for quality straight from the assembly plant, measures how many problems show up in vehicles in the first 90 days of ownership.
The Toyota brand fell dramatically in rank as its count rose to 16 defects per 100 vehicles. The poor quality showing comes on top of a series of embarrassing safety recalls. "Clearly, Toyota has endured a difficult year," said David Sargent, VP of global vehicle research at J.D. Power and Associates. "Recent consumer concerns regarding Toyota's quality are reflected in the nameplate's performance in the 2010 study."
Said Toyota spokesman John Hanson: "Of course we are disappointed in the drop in the Toyota and Lexus IQS rankings. But this year's study was conducted at the height of intense media coverage of our recent recalls, so it's no surprise to see the impact this had on this specific rank for the vehicles involved."
He said that vehicles not involved in the recalls saw higher scores compared to last year
The industry average for 2010 in initial quality is 109 problems per 100 vehicles, up slightly from 108 last year. But initial quality for domestic brands rose 4 points this year to an average of 108, one better than the average for all brands.
"Domestic automakers have made impressive strides in steadily improving vehicle quality, particularly since 2007," said Sargent. "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."
Among individual vehicles showing improvement: Ford Focus, Ram 1500 pickup and Buick Enclave. Ford Motor has been improving steadily and has 12 models in the top three in their categories this year, more than any maker. General Motors wasn't far behind with 10 models in the category top threes. And four of Ford's winners were Volvos, a brand it has a deal to sell.
Even some new models, which often need time to work out kinks, showed high initial quality. The new Honda Accord Crosstour, redesigned Ford Mustang, Ford Taurus and Lexus GX 460 each ranked No. 1 in their respective segments. The Ford Fusion, Mercedes-Benz E-Class coupe and sedan and Porsche Panamera also launched with "notably high initial quality levels," says Power.
Here's the list by brand, from best to worst, and the individual model leaders by category:
BRANDS OVERALL (defects per 100 vehicles):
Industry average was 108 per 100