Toyota skids in reliability rankings

Automaker slips to fifth from first place, and some versions of Camry, Tundra and Lexus GS no longer recommended.

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, staff writer

NEW YORK, -- The Toyota brand has lost its top position for iron-clad reliability, according to an influential Consumer Reports survey released Tuesday.

The survey dropped Toyota from first to fifth place - behind Honda, Acura, Scion and Subaru - in average vehicle reliability. The rankings are based on average predicted reliability for all models sold under a given brand.

2007 Toyota Camry: Because of poor predicted reliability, V6-powered versions of the Toyota Camry are no longer recommended by Consumer Reports.

Brands made by Toyota Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. still dominate the rankings: Scion is Toyota's low-priced car brand and Acura is Honda's luxury car brand.

Consumer Reports said it no longer recommends V6 versions of Toyota's Camry or four-wheel-drive V8 versions of its Tundra pick-up because of poor reliability.

In the past, because Toyota (Charts) products have so consistently proved reliable, the magazine would assume at least average reliability for Toyota's brand new cars, without waiting for survey data from owners.

But from now on, the magazine will wait for a full year of reliability survey data to come in before it recommends a Toyota product - as it does with most other manufacturers.

"We are still, by any measure, a very reliable make," said Toyota spokesman Xavier Dominicis.

Toyota Motor Co., which makes Toyota, Lexus and Scion cars, makes 44 percent of the cars rated as "Most Reliable" by Consumer Reports, Dominicis pointed out.

Toyota recently passed Ford in sales and is now the second best-selling car company in the United States behind General Motors.

Domestic manufacturers General Motors (Charts, Fortune 500), Ford (Charts, Fortune 500) and Chrysler continued to improve in the Consumer Reports reliability rankings. But only Buick, GM's near-luxury brand ranked number 10, made into the top ten.

Among individual models, GM's closely related GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook SUVs earned a Consumer Reports recommendation based on their first full year of data. The Dodge Charger also earned a recommendation after its reliability showed substantial improvement from previous years.

Ford, in particular, is improving in quality, according to Consumer Reports. In all, 93 percent of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles showed average or better reliability in the most recent reliability survey.

Among overall brands, Ford's Mercury brand ranked 11th, the Ford brand ranked 13th and the Lincoln luxury brand ranked 14th. Other than Buick, they were the highest-ranking domestic brands.

Mike Hardie, Ford's director of quality, predicted that Ford would take the top position in Consumer Reports reliability rankings in the near future.

Ford's quality has tended to be more consistent, with steady improvement year over year, than that of other domestic manufacturers, said David Champion, head of auto testing for Consumer Reports.

"GM and Chrysler have been more hit-and-miss," said Champion.

Of the 39 cars rated "Most Reliable" in Consumer Reports new list, four are by domestic manufacturers. They are the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan, two-wheel-drives Ford F-150 V6 and GM's Pontiac Vibe. The Vibe is built in cooperation with Toyota and shares its engineering with the Toyota Matrix.

But 20 of the 44 "least reliable" models named by Consumer Reports were also from domestic manufacturers.

The least reliable car of all, according to Consumer Reports survey, is General Motors' Pontiac Solstice sports car. Its reliability was calculated to be 234 percent worse than average. It was followed closely by GM's Cadillac Escalade EXT, which is calculated to be 220 percent less reliable than the average vehicle.

General Motors cited progress, as well, in its drive to improve quality.

"Our most recent launches are all recommended,' pointed out Bob Ottolini, GM's executive director for product quality, referrring to the Saturn Outlook and Aura and the GMC Acadia.

Ottoline agreed that GM needs to work on maintaing strong quality once it achieves it in a product so that cars don't end up slipping in the ratings as glitches start to appear.

European manufacturers showed some of the biggest improvements in overall brand rankings. Porsche rose 20 places since last year's survey to finish ninth, for example. Meanwhile, Mini rose 16 places and Jaguar rose 17.

Consumer Reports' reliability rankings differ significantly from those released recently by J.D. Power and Associates. In the J.D. Power most recent "Vehicle Dependability Survey," five of the top ten brands were domestic and Buick tied Lexus for first place.

One major reason for that difference: J.D. Power only surveys owners of three-year-old vehicles. But Consumer Reports surveys its subscribers about vehicles from all three of the most recent model years, unless the vehicle has changed significantly. If the vehicle has changed in that time, only vehicles built since the change are included.

Consumer Reports' rankings are based on survey responses from subscribers to the magazine and its Website. Responses included information on almost 1.3 million vehicles.

Over the past few years, both Consumer Reports and J.D. Power surveys have showed similar trends, however, with domestic car brands improving in quality with European brands generally lagging behind. Top of page