Three years after a blitz of recalls and quality crises, Toyota has regained its image among Americans as the automaker with the highest quality vehicles, topping all others in the first Yahoo! Autos Survey. The four brands right behind it include a couple of names you might expect -- and a couple of surprises.
Of the 1,000 people asked which automotive brand built the highest-quality vehicles, Toyota came on top with 13%, well ahead of any other brand. That figure's in line with its performance on the industry's traditional independent quality trackers — the annual Consumer Reports and J.D. Power surveys. Both found a downturn in the wake of the sudden acceleration recalls in 2010 and federal probe that eventually exonerated Toyota, but the automaker regained ground after vowing to focus on better quality vehicles. Toyota took five of the top 10 picks from Consumer Reports this year.
Following behind Toyota among respondents was Ford, whose quality scores in other ratings had been the best among Detroit automakers until a recent spate of complaints involving its MyFordTouch entertainment systems. Outside of its electronics, Ford has managed to strengthen its image for high-quality vehicles -- but it has also struggled to train dealers and customers in how to use touchscreen controls and adapt to software updates.
In third place, surprisingly, was Chevrolet, a brand that gets good but inconsistent marks for quality in other surveys, placing slightly ahead of the next two brands: Honda and BMW. While Honda still ranks near the top of all quality measures, BMW also tends to get wildly different scores depending on who's asking. And BMW's presence suggest the results aren't just owners voting for what's in their own driveway.
Taken together, this poll shows that reputation can matter more than reality. Lexus' quality scores by all measures outpace BMWs, and other General Motors brands usually perform better than Chevy. Yet quality has become such a byword in the industry that the differences between any two given companies have narrowed greatly; the top five brands were only separated by four percentage points in our survey. And what's even meant by "quality" can be hard to pin down; is it a lack of pieces that break, or an abundance of parts doing their job well? Whatever it is among U.S. car owners, Toyota has it over the competition.
This is the second of three stories highlighting finding from the Yahoo! Autos survey. Tomorrow, we'll reveal how the federal bailout of General Motors still reverberates among car buyers.
Photo: A.N.M via Flickr