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Automakers that got high grades in J.D. Power and Associates' annual quality survey are shifting their advertising operations into high gear.

This year, consumers can expect to see advertising about Power's latest Initial Quality survey rankings from Toyota Motor Corp. and its Lexus Division; Mazda Motor Corp. for its trucks; and General Motors Corp.'s Buick Division, the highest-ranked U.S.-made cars.Carmakers use the survey by Power, an industry marketing company, much like they do the car- or truck-of-the-year awards given by automotive magazines: If a company's vehicle ranks high, they brag about it. If not, they stay quiet.

"We do look at those (awards) very hard," Buick advertising director Jay Qualman said Tuesday.

Increasingly, quality is becoming a major concern among new-car buyers, and automakers have been focusing on it.

GM is in the midst of a huge program called "Putting Quality on the Road," in which every GM employee acts as a surrogate salesperson urging friends and acquaintances to consider buying GM products.

Chrysler Corp. Chairman Lee Iacocca in May wound up a six-city tour in which he touted his company's cars as having quality as good as any others on the road.

For years, Ford Motor Co. has used the advertising line: "Quality is Job One."

The most obvious recent use of Power surveys among domestic automakers has been by GM's Buick Division. Buick was ranked highest among U.S. nameplates in the latest Power Initial Quality survey released Monday and got the same distinction a year ago.

At news conferences and in advertising during the past year, Buick officials repeatedly referred to the Power surveys as ranking it among the most trouble-free cars in America. It will continue with those ads during the coming year.

Buick's advertising agency, McCann-Erickson Inc. of Troy, already has developed television advertisements bragging about the Power ranking. A dozen television spots begin airing this week, Qualman said.

He said Power gave the agency word of the ranking about three weeks ago and it immediately began working on new ads.

As in years past, Buick and other Big Three nameplates have taken back seats to Japanese imports in the rankings.

In the latest survey detailed in The Power Report, a monthly publication by the Agoura Hills, Calif.-based company, Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus Division got the best scores among car brand names.

It was followed by Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and Nissan Motor Corp.'s Infiniti Division before Buick.

Within a day of the survey's official release, Toyota and Mazda issued news releases bragging that their cars and trucks topped lists contained in the survey.

Toyota Cressida was ranked the most trouble-free car sold in the nation, followed by the Mercedes E-Series, Toyota Camry, Lexus LS400 and Mercedes S-Class.

The highest ranking U.S.-made car was the Buick LeSabre in sixth place.

Among trucks, Mazda's pickup was rated the most trouble-free model. The highest-ranking U.S. truck brand was Ford at number four. Among specific models, Ford also had the highest-ranking among U.S. makers, with its Bronco II ranked fifth among all trucks.

The Power Initial Quality survey compiled responses from about 26,000 buyers of 1990 model cars and about 6,500 answers from among 19,000 truck buyers.

Each was asked about problems encountered during the first three months of ownership in a dozen broad areas including squeaks and rattles, paint and water leaks.

Automakers and their specific vehicles were ranked on a basis of number of problems reported per 100 vehicles sold. The top-ranked Lexus division, for instance, had 82 problems reported per 100 vehicles while the Lexus LS400 car had 74 problems per 100.

The results are detailed in a 200-plus page report, complete with charts and graphs, supplied to Power's carmaker clients, who pay tens of thousands of dollars for the information.