Ford Loses Mojo, J.D. Power Says, While Toyota Gets Some Back

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The influential annual Initial Quality Survey of U.S. auto manufacturers by J.D. Power & Associates is out this afternoon, and it’s got some crisp verdicts for specific brands: Ford is stunningly in the dog house, while Toyota has drawn some relief.

Ford swooned to 23rd place in the 2011 rankings of brands, as graded by consumers for quality issues within three months of ownership, from a heady 5th-place finish last year. Interestingly, the main culprits in Ford’s fall were two technology sub-brands that it has been promoting vigorously over the last year: Sync and EcoBoost.[more]

Sync, Ford’s in-car connected infotainment system, had helped the automaker to a lead in technology and consumer perceptions — as the automaker touted this week to journalists — in the increasingly crucial arena of in-car connectivity.

“But they’ve tried to do too much, too quickly” with Sync and the complementary MyFord Touch systems, leaving many consumers confused and frustrated about how to operate them, Raffi Festekjian, Power’s director of automotive research, told brandchannel. Ford executives are aware of the problems and insist they’re on their way to fixing them.

EcoBoost is Ford’s program to squeeze better mileage and power out of four- and six-cylinder engines by using direct injection and turbocharging, and the company has been boasting of the popularity of EcoBoost powertrains with Ford purchasers – even those buying F-150 pickup trucks. But the engines are among new ones in the industry that, according to Power, lead to the engine or transmission “hesitating” when accelerating or changing gears.

The non-EcoBoost engine in the new Ford Fiesta also is a source of such problems, Power said. And Festekjian said that General Motors’ engines in the new Chevrolet Cruze and Buick Regal displayed similar problems.

Meanwhile, Toyota recovered from its woeful 21st-place rating for 2010, which seemed almost entirely related to the anxiety of owners about the brand’s safety-recall issues in 2010. In this IQS, Toyota placed 7th – and the company’s Lexus luxury brand placed 1st.

Another boon for Toyota, perhaps ironically, was that it lacked major new-vehicle launches last year. Overall, for the industry, new-vehicle launches have been a quality problem lately, Power said, compared with quality realities and perceptions in existing models that haven’t changed much from 2010. That benefited Toyota specifically.

“Corolla and Camry are their two best-selling models by far, and they improved [significantly in the IQS] over last year,” Festekjian said. “They weren’t launch vehicles, and that really helped.”

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