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Customers rate Toyota tops in durability

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DETROIT — Toyota Motor Corp. remains the automaker with the most dependable vehicles, led by its Lexus luxury brand, though Detroit's Big Three manufacturers all showed improvement in the past year, according to the latest J.D. Power and Associates vehicle dependability study released Tuesday.

For the 10th consecutive year, Lexus was the highest-ranking brand in the closely watched study. It was followed by General Motors Corp.'s Buick nameplate, Nissan Motor Co.'s Infiniti brand, Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln label and GM's revamped Cadillac lineup.

GM was the only one of the domestic automakers to score better than the industry average of 269 problems per 100 vehicles, but Ford and DaimlerChrysler AG made significant headway. Last year's industry average was 273 problems per 100 vehicles.

"The domestics are putting their money where their mouths are in terms of consistent long-term quality improvements," said Joe Ivers, J.D. Power's executive director of quality/customer satisfaction. "However, while the domestics continue to outpace the Europeans, the Japanese continue to dominate."

The study is based on responses from more than 48,000 original owners of 2001 model-year cars and trucks. It measures problems such as wind noise, excessive brake wear, vibrations and the replacement of parts not called for under normal maintenance.

Toyota, whose U.S. sales were up 11.6 percent through May, had seven models score highest in their respective segments — the Corolla compact car, Avalon premium midsize car, MR2 Spyder sports car and 4Runner midsize sport utility vehicle for the Toyota label, and the ES 330 entry luxury car, LS 430 premium luxury car and RX 300 entry luxury SUV for Lexus.

"This goes to show that Toyota and Lexus vehicles stand the test of time," said Bob Daly, Toyota's group vice president for customer service. "We excel because we design quality and durability into every vehicle we make."<

Among individual brands, the most improved from last year were Kia, Suzuki and Audi, though all three continue to perform below the industry average. Kia had 77 fewer problems per 100 vehicles, Suzuki 38 and Audi 23.

GM was tops among the Big Three with 262 problems per 100 vehicles, two fewer than last year. Ford (275) improved by 12 problems from a year ago, and DaimlerChrysler (302) was better by nine problems.

Segment-leading models for the Big Three included the Chrysler Concorde among full-size cars, Ford Ranger among compact pickups and the redesigned GMC Sierra HD among heavy-duty, full-size pickups.

Hyundai, which showed the most improvement among 37 brands in J.D. Power's initial quality study released in April, was near the bottom in the dependability study, registering 375 problems per 100 vehicles.

The bottom five in terms of problems per 100 vehicles were Volkswagen (386), Isuzu (393), Daewoo (411), Kia (432) and Land Rover (472).

Among manufacturers, Toyota (207) was followed by American Honda Motor Co. (210), Porsche Cars North America Inc. (240), GM (262) and BMW of North America (264). Those were the only manufacturers to rank above the industry average.

On the Net: J.D. Power and Associates: www.jdpa.com