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From the Detroit Free Press:

U.S. automakers rate well in survey of vehicle owners

Bold styling key in quality study

June 19, 2006

BY JOE GUY COLLIER

FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

Detroit automakers are proving they can impress customers with new hits, such as the Ford Fusion, Chevy HHR and Dodge Charger, according to a quality study to be released today by Strategic Vision Inc., a California-based research and consulting firm.

But the study also found stiff competition from foreign companies and a strong push by the Japanese in trucks, minivans and SUVs.

Strategic Vision surveyed more than 29,000 new-vehicle buyers. The study measures tangible factors, such as the number of problems reported. Additionally, it gauges emotional factors, asking owners if they're proud of their vehicle, if it makes a statement and if it's exciting to drive.

General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler Group combined took the top spots in eight of the 20 segments.

GM won the most segments, scoring highest in five, including small multi-function vehicle with the HHR and top small SUV with the Saturn Vue.

The Chrysler Group's Dodge Charger and Magnum ranked highest in large-car and medium-crossover segments.

Ford had just one vehicle rank highest in a segment, but it was a key vehicle: the Fusion, a new car competing against the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima in the medium-car segment .

The Fusion is an example of what Ford, GM and Chrysler need to do to raise their stock with customers, said Daniel Gorrell, a partner with Strategic Vision. The Fusion's edgy design is resonating with buyers, he said.

"Bold is good," Gorrell said. "The styling gets people's attention."

The foreign brands also did well in key categories. Volkswagen did not win a segment but ranked first overall among full-line corporations, thanks largely to its redesigned Jetta and Passat.

Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. were close at second and third. Ford was fourth. GM and Toyota Motor Corp. tied at fifth.

Toyota's cars and trucks ranked high in basic attributes such as instilling a sense of security, safety and dependability.

Toyota, Honda and Nissan also made inroads in the truck, SUV and minivan market. The Honda Ridgeline was the top full-size pickup, the Toyota 4Runner won the medium SUV segment and the Honda Odyssey scored highest among minivans.

That's bad news for Detroit because GM, Ford and Chrysler traditionally dominate the truck, SUV and minivan markets. "The Japanese are attacking their truck stronghold," Gorrell said.

GM, Ford and Chrysler now have competition across the board. Their challenge is to deliver more cars and trucks like the Fusion with bold styling, while also winning customers with improved quality, Gorrell said. They have to provide long-term confidence in their vehicles, he said.

"They have to get those doubting Thomases," Gorrell said. "The bold styling gets people's attention, but to really cement the deal, especially for those doubters, they have to establish more trust in those brands."

Strategic Vision quality winners

*

Strategic Vision, a California research and consulting firm, surveyed more than 29,000 new-vehicle buyers to rank cars and trucks in a broad definition of quality that looks at both tangible and emotional attributes. These are each manufacturer's winning categories.

General Motors

* Chevy HHR (small multi-function)

* Chevy Corvette Coupe (small specialty over $25,000)

* Chevy Corvette Convertible (convertible over $30,000)

* Chevy Silverado 2500/35000 (heavy-duty pickup)

* Saturn Vue (small SUV)

Chrysler Group

* Dodge Charger (large car)

* Dodge Magnum (medium crossover)

Ford

* Ford Fusion (medium car)

Toyota

* Toyota Tacoma (compact pickup)

* Toyota 4Runner (medium SUV)

* Lexus IS 250/350 (near-luxury car)

* Lexus RX 350/400h (near-luxury SUV)

Honda

* Honda Civic (small car)

* Honda Odyssey (minivan)

* Honda Ridgeline (full-size pickup)

BMW

* BMW 7-Series (luxury car)

* Mini Cooper (small specialty under $25,000)

* Mini Cooper Convertible (convertible under $30,000)

Nissan

* Nissan Armada (large SUV)

Land Rover (OWNED BY FORD)

* Range Rover Sport (luxury SUV)
 
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