Buick and Jaguar top dependability survey

While Toyota is tops in most specific categories, Buick and Jaguar tie for most reliable brands overall, according to J.D. Power and Assoc.

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By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com senior writer

Buick tied with Jaguar as the most dependable vehicle brand overall in J.D, Power and Assoc. 2009 Vehicle Dependability Survey. The Buick LaCrosse, shown here, ranked as the most dependable mid-size car.

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- General Motors' Buick brand tied with Jaguar in J.D. Power and Associates' latest vehicle dependability survey released Thursday.

"Buick has ranked among the top 10 nameplates each year since the study was last redesigned in 2003, while Jaguar has moved rapidly up the rankings," said David Sargent, vice president of automotive research at J.D. Power, in an announcement.

To find out which cars were most dependable, the market research company surveyed owners of 2006 model year cars.

In 2005 and 2006, when the vehicles in the survey were being produced, Jaguar was owned by Ford Motor Co. (F, Fortune 500) The brand was sold last year, along with Land Rover, to India's Tata Motors.

"This is one of the most significant days in the history of Jaguar," said Jaguar Land Rover spokesman Stuart Schorr.

No Jaguar models topped their respective vehicle classes because their wasn't enough survey data on any one model to rank it, said Sargent in an interview. Jaguar's dependability could be quantified only at the brand level.

"I think what's behind it is a lot of hard work by Jaguar and, in the past, Ford," he said.

Results like these are a long time in the making, he said, because owners are only surveyed three years after they bought the car, and the design and engineering of the car would have happened over a period of at least five years prior to that.

Jaguar ranked 10th in dependability rankings last year, while Buick ranked sixth. This is the General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) brand's second time at the top of the rankings. It tied with Lexus for the top spot two years ago.

This year, Lexus ranked second behind Buick and Jaguar. Toyota's (TM) mass-market Toyota brand ranked third, followed by Ford Motor Co.'s Mercury brand.

Results like these won't change the perception of General Motors or Jaguar vehicles right away, said Sargent.

"The image of reliability in the minds of consumers is somewhat behind the reality," he said.

Part of the problem, said Rick Spina, GM's vice president for quality, is that a lack of problems doesn't generate as much discussion as a problem does.

"We know that happy customers don't talk to as many people as sad customers," he said.

Besides reducing the number of malfunctions customers experience, said Spina, Buick has also worked to improve the "perceived quality" of its vehicle. That's the look, feel and sound of the car.

With better perceived quality, owners simply like their car better, he said, and that makes them less likely to complain about minor problems in a survey like this one.

Each year, J.D. Power surveys owners of three-year old cars to learn how many problems they experience with the cars. In the fall of 2008, about 46,000 car owners of model year 2006 vehicles were surveyed. Car brands and vehicles are scored on the basis of the number of specific problems per 100 vehicles.

Among the various brands, scores ranged from 122 for Buick and Jaguar to 263 for Suzuki, the lowest-scoring brand on the list. The industry average was 170.

Volkswagen and Land Rover, sister brand to Jaguar, also scored poorly in the survey, putting them among the three worst for dependability.

Both Jaguar and Land Rover showed similar improvements in quality between last year's survey and this one, however, Schorr pointed out. Scores for both brands improved by about 30%. For Land Rover, that was enough to move it up out of last place.

J.D. Power also named "most dependable" vehicles in various market segments. Toyota had the most segment-topping vehicles - five in all - of any brand. Toyota's Lexus luxury brand was second by that measure, with four segment leading vehicles.

"Lexus remains a very strong competitor in long-term quality. In particular, the Lexus LS 430 sets the industry standard for dependability, with fewer problems reported than any other model in the study," said Sargent in the J.D. Power announcement.

Among the most dependable vehicles in various segments were the Toyota Prius among compact cars, the Scion xA among subcompacts and the Dodge Caravan among minivans. The Mazda MX-5 ranked as the most dependable sporty car and the Mercury Grand Marquis as the most dependable large car.

Out of 19 different vehicle segments, as defined by J.D. Power, Japanese brands had the top-scoring vehicle in 13 of them.  To top of page

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