Consumer Reports: Toyota Quality Sees "Cracks in its Armor"

By Michelle Krebs October 16, 2007

DETROIT -- After years of sterling reliability, Toyota is showing cracks in its armor, according to data 08_camry_se_210 from Consumer Reports’ 2007 Annual Car Reliability Survey revealed Tuesday before the Automotive Press Association in Detroit.

By contrast, Ford’s domestic brands have made considerable improvements. Consumer Reports said 93 percent of Ford, Lincoln, Mercury models in the survey scored average or better.

“Ford continues to improve,” said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center. “The reliability of their cars has steadily improved over the years, and is showing consistency.”

He added, “We believe Toyota is aware of its issues and is trying to fix problems quickly.”

Despite the problems, Toyota (including Lexus and Scion) still ranks 3rd in reliability among all automakers, behind only Honda and Subaru.

Toyota’s Quality Cracks Revealed

Considered by many to be the bible on product quality, Consumer Reports said the V6 version of the 08tundrasport_210 top-selling Toyota Camry and the four-wheel-drive V8 version of the Tundra pickup, both redesigned for 2007, now rate below average in Consumer Reports’ predicted reliability rating. The all-wheel-drive version of the Lexus GS sedan also received a below-average rating.

Because Consumer Reports does not recommend models with below-average reliability, these models no longer make the magazine's “Recommended” list.

The four-cylinder and hybrid versions of the Camry and rear-drive version of the GS scored above average in reliability and will continue to with their Recommended rating.

No More Automatic Recommendations for Toyota

Because of its findings, Consumer Reports will no longer recommend any new or redesigned Toyota-built models without reliability data on a specific design. Previously, new and redesigned Toyota models were recommended because of the automaker’s excellent track record, even if the publication didn’t have sufficient reliability data on the new model. If Toyota returns to its previous record of outstanding overall reliability, Consumer Reports said it may resume this practice.

Typically, the publication will only recommend a vehicle if the magazine has at least one year of reliability data for that specific model.

Improved Odds for a Reliable Ford

Consumer Reports’ 2007 survey shows that the odds of getting a reliable new vehicle from Ford are the best the magazine has seen in years. Of 44 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models, 41 (93 percent) in Consumer Reports' survey scored average or better in predicted reliability.

The Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan are among the most reliable cars. They and the two-wheel-drive 08fusion_01_210 Ford F-150 V6 make up three of the only four domestic models on Consumer Reports’ “Most Reliable” list.

In addition, new-for-2007 SUVs such as the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX, as well as the freshened Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator, were all average or above.

U.S. Brands Still Dominate “Least Reliable” List

Despite Ford’s improvement, U.S. brands account for almost half the models -- 20 of 44 -- on Consumer Reports’ list of “Least Reliable” models. Of those, 13 are from General Motors, six from Chrysler, and one from Ford.

Not all models carrying Asian nameplates are reliable, either. The Hyundai Entourage, Infiniti QX56, Mazda CX-7, Nissan Armada (4WD), Quest and Titan (4WD), and Toyota Tundra (V8, 4WD) are all on the “Least Reliable” list.

Besides the three Toyota-built models, other notable models with declining reliability include the Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon and Volkswagen Passat (V6).

European makes account for 17 models, including six each from Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen/Audi, on the “Least Reliable” list.

Still for European brands, signs are pointing to an overall improvement. The Audi A3, A4 and A6 are now all above average or better, as are some or all versions of the BMW 3, 5 and 7 Series. The Volvo S60 is also above average. The Porsche 911 is above average and is now recommended.

For the first time in recent years, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class (V6 RWD) is no longer below average, although an all-new C-Class has been introduced for 2008. Despite this, Mercedes-Benz still hovers near the bottom in Consumer Reports’ predicted reliability scores comparison.

Miscellaneous Findings

Consumer Reports has added 19 domestic models to its "Newly Recommended" list. They include the new GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook, in their first years, and the Dodge Charger, which was not recommended in last year’s survey because of below-average reliability. Of the domestic models for which CR had sufficient data in the 2007 survey, 93 percent of Ford, 49 percent of General Motors and 67 percent of Chrysler models had average or better predicted reliability.

Of the 39 “Most Reliable” models, 34 are Asian -- 17 are from Toyota (including Lexus and Scion); seven are from Honda (including Acura); three each from Hyundai and Nissan (including Infiniti); 2 are from Subaru; and one each from Mitsubishi and Mazda.

The Pontiac Solstice has the worst new-car prediction score in the 2007 survey. Pontiac_solstice_210

When ranked by make, Honda and Acura have the highest average scores of the 36 brands. Closely following are Scion, Subaru and Toyota. Buick is the highest-ranked domestic brand.

Among the 36 makes, Land Rover is the least reliable, on average.

How Findings Are Performed

Findings are based on responses on almost 1.3 million vehicles owned or leased by subscribers to Consumer Reports or its Web site, www.ConsumerReports.org. The survey was conducted in the spring of 2007 by Consumer Reports’ National Survey Research Center and covered model years 1998 to 2007.

Consumer Reports’ statisticians and automotive engineers used the survey data to predict reliability of new 2008 models. They average the overall reliability scores (used car verdicts) for the most recent three model years, provided that the model remained unchanged in that period and also didn’t substantially change for 2008. If a model was new or redesigned in the past couple of years, one or two years’ data may be used, or if that’s all that’s available.

Consumer Reports annual reliability survey is used in determining which makes and models are recommended to consumers. Consumer Reports recommends only models that have performed well in tests conducted at its 327-acre Auto Test Center in Connecticut, and that have average or better predicted reliability based on its annual survey. In addition, vehicles must perform well in government or insurance-industry crash and rollover tests, if tested, in order to be recommended.

Occasionally, Consumer Reports may recommend a new or redesigned model too new to have compiled a reliability record if the previous generation, or the manufacturer’s reliability track record has been consistently outstanding, and if the model scores well in tests.

Complete ratings are available in the Consumer Reports issue on newsstands.

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SunDodger says: 1:35 PM, 10.16.07

Less is more - no question.

As Toyota continues it's quest to be all things to all consumers, this will continue. Too many products, too many product launches. I don't see this changing.

To my eyes, why not just have four or five great products and refine the hell out of it? Honda with the Civic, Accord, CR-V, Odyssey, and MD-X have it right. Keep it simple, make it great.

SunDodger says: 1:36 PM, 10.16.07

Less is more - no question.

As Toyota continues it's quest to be all things to all consumers, this will continue. Too many products, too many product launches. I don't see this changing.

To my eyes, why not just have four or five great products and refine the hell out of it? Honda with the Civic, Accord, CR-V, Odyssey, and MD-X have it right. Keep it simple, make it great.

Michael Karesh says: 2:35 PM, 10.16.07

It's big news that they'll no longer automatically recommend Toyotas. But their methods remain flawed. My main critique is here:

http://www.truedelta.com/pieces/shortcomings.php

In response, two years ago I started conducting my own vehicle reliability research. One advantage: prompt quarterly updates. A second: actual repair rates, not just dots, so the differences between models are clear.

We reported a high problem rate for the Camry V6 back in August.We'll already be reporting on the 2008 Buick Enclave next month. CR won't cover it until a year from now.

We started reporting results for the Outlook and Acadia back in August. CR is under-reporting the repair rate, likely because most of their surveys were returned back in April. This tends to inflate their results for models introduced in the winter or spring.

For example, two years ago they said reliability for the Honda Ridgeline was "much better than average." A year later they reported that the truck's reliability had declined to "average." Similarly, last year they said reliability of the GMT900s was "better than average." Now it has "declined" to "much worse than average."

The real problem in each of these cases is they report results even when respondents haven't owned the vehicles long enough to experience problems.

Details on TrueDelta's alternative approach here:

http://www.truedelta.com/reliability.php

Mike Philleo says: 3:30 PM, 10.16.07

Uhh...how is the Domestic brands contributing 20 out of 44 or "almost half," as stated in the article, "dominating" a least reliable list? I'm not making a blind defense of the US brands, but by simple logic, if a car on the list isn't a domestic, isn't it an import? Which would actually suggest that imports dominate the least reliable list by a marginal majority?

On the other hand, you could say that with 13 models from GM on the list, GM is dominating the list...but to say that domestics are dominating the list because over 25% of the the least reliable models come from a domestic company is just an inherently wrong statement.

Besides that complaint, this is great news. Glad to see Consumer Reports is starting to call into question some of their less-than-scrupulous practices. It's pretty arrogant to say, "Well, it's a Toyota. It's going to be reliable." Wouldn't they have egg in their face if they did that for a brand new Toyota model and it was below average reliability?

It's stuff like that that instills Toyota with their poorly disguised holier than thou attitude. Which somehow, by mere association, rubs off on the overinflated egos of import owners.

Derrick Gunter says: 4:55 PM, 10.16.07

They say domestics dominate because they group cars into Domestic, Asian, and European categories and among the three, domestics have the most.

Michael Taylor says: 3:33 AM, 10.17.07

Why didn't CR bother to mention that the Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan and Ford Edge/Mercury MKZ are acutally based on Mazda platforms? The only "real" Fords are the Expedition/Navigator.

Michael Karesh says: 3:12 PM, 10.17.07

They changed enough when engineering the Fusion that there was plenty of opportunity to muck things up.

With the Five Hundred, how much Volvo do you think is still in the car?

Don McMeen says: 4:13 PM, 10.17.07

Well folks, there's reliability, and then there's reliability. A trunk release that malfunctions and is correctable isn't quite the same as an engine that smokes, runs roughly, or just plain doesn't run when you'd really like it to. Frankly, most of the cars on the market are close to perfect when compared to cars, especially domestics of two decades ago. But there are considerable differences in their driveability, handling, economy, ergonomics, interior design and fit/finish/material quality aspects. Let's give the designers and manufacturers from Japan their due, they make great products for this era and its needs.

sj says: 7:46 AM, 10.18.07

"But there are considerable differences in their driveability, handling, economy, ergonomics, interior design and fit/finish/material quality aspects. Let's give the designers and manufacturers from Japan their due, they make great products for this era and its needs."

You need to get out more and see whats being sold. IN terms of driveability, design, handling and everything else the domestics are catching up. I guess you havent noticed that many publications have been less than impressed with the cheap interiors of the RAv4 and camry. Sit in the new Vue and then sit in the RAv4 and then tell us about giving the Japanese credit for being superior. As for handling, Toyota is near the back of the pack in that department. The Fusion, Aura and other cars are superior to the Camry when it comes to handling. Chrysler's FWD cars are lacking but GM and Ford are doing pretty well in the car department, especially GM. There is no dicernable difference in build quality amongst brands today. The fit on a 2007 GM model is better than a Toyota of 5 years ago and yet the idea that the Japanese have a lock on great build quality persists.

fulcrumb says: 8:59 PM, 10.18.07

Toyota's still got the "mo"; as in momentum. People are buying more and more Toyotas because peole are saying more and more people are buying Toyotas. That and the presumption that one will be shunned by their peer group if they buy an American-branded car. Having been in the retail side of the industry, I've had the experience of having a deal bubble because of the stigma brought on by the customer's circle of influence for not buying a foreign-branded vehicle, even though they were genuinely happy with the domestic and the deal.

Frank Segarra Jr says: 10:21 AM, 10.19.07

Just bought a 2007 Honda Accord. If you ride this vehicle in pristine roads it is not bad. However if the roads are irregular and there are bumps on the road the ride is TERRIBLE.
You feel every crack on the road and the noise penetrates the cabin unmercifully. Although the American car might not be as reliable, I am going to get rid of this car I dont care if I loose money, the aggravation is not worth keeping this car My wife feels the same as me, on this Accord. This was my first foreign car and possibly the last.

Czar says: 6:24 AM, 11.03.07

Why not just rate the cars reliability by name only not by which continent the car comapny was based. No one really knows how american, asian or european a car is becasue parts are coming from everywhere. There is so much bias in it, mainly about race.

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