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U.S. automakers assemble better reviews

Steve Tripoli Nov 10, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Depending on what’s important to you, this week will go down in history as the week Democrats regained control of Congress. Or, the week Britney Spears filed for divorce. Or maybe the week Detroit started catching up on quality. Consumer Reports is out with its annual car reliability survey. And U.S. automakers are coming up fast in the rear view mirror. Marketplace’s Steve Tripoli reports.

STEVE TRIPOLI: American carmakers’ spin machines were all over the good news. Chief car tester David Champion of Consumer Reports says there’s some reason to celebrate:

DAVID CHAMPION:“The Japanese are still setting the pace, they still make the most reliable cars over time, but this is a good sign.”

The new Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan twins were the top-ranked family cars in initial quality. General Motors had high performers in the SUV category with its Chevrolet Tahoe / GMC Yukon twins. But David Champion says initial reliability isn’t the whole ballgame, it’s staying power.

CHAMPION:“It’s not the panacea that here we have two models that are going to compete with the Japanese over a lifespan of the vehicle, say 10 years. We will see whether they have really turned the corner in terms of producing reliable vehicles.”

Keith Crain of the Automotive News says it’s ironic that the Japanese are still ahead.

KEITH CRAIN:“A lot of the cars and trucks that the American manufacturers — Ford, GM and Chrysler — were competing against were also made in the United States as well.”

That includes the hugely popular Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. No one has to tell carmakers this isn’t the final exam. David Champion says it matters more that cars are reliable later in their lives.

CHAMPION:“And that’s when the consumer is making his purchase decision of what he’s going to buy next.”

One other American nameplate was a top scorer in the new survey. GM’s Pontiac Vibe mini-wagon made it. But in a funny way that’s kind of a back-handed compliment. The Vibe is a slightly modified version of Toyota’s Matrix wagon.

I’m Steve Tripoli for Marketplace.

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