Auto Outlook: Ford takes a dive in CR reliability survey, Toyota rules

By AL SWANSON, UPI Auto Writer   |  Nov. 4, 2012 at 5:30 AM
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Ford's high-tech touch screens and dual-clutch transmissions sank the U.S. automaker in the latest Consumer Reports reliability survey, but hybrid and all-electric vehicles fared well.

The survey's most reliable U.S. automaker just two years ago, Ford fell seven places from 20th place in 2011 as rival GM's four brands, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick and GMC, improved. Ford and its upscale Lincoln brand were ranked 27th and 26th, respectively, by Consumer Reports subscribers with many respondents complaining about the multimedia "MyFord Touch" and "MyLincoln Touch" infotainment systems and the six-speed "PowerShift" automatic transmissions.

The magazine said more than 20 percent of Ford Explorer owners and lessees who responded to the reliability survey reported vehicle problems. That compares to only 1 percent of owners of the sub-compact Prius c hybrid, the most reliable vehicle in the 2012 Auto Reliability Survey.

"This data shows we have some work to do," Ford spokesman Mark Schirmer told The Wall Street Journal.

Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports, told a meeting of the Automotive Press Association in Detroit Ford's expanded use of touch screen multimedia systems and fuel-saving PowerShift transmissions in Fiesta and Focus models "doesn't bode well for the future," the Journal said.

"Ford's bumpy road can been seen in the numbers," said Fisher. "Sixty percent of Ford-branded models and half of Lincoln's were below average in predicted reliability, and none placed above average."

In March, Ford re-booted "MyFord Touch," sending owners a software upgrade to make displays simpler and virtual buttons bigger. Ford owners can also ask dealers to install new software to improve the performance of their PowerShift transmissions.

Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge and Ram, ranked 19th, 23rd, 24th and 25th, respectively, were rated slightly better than Ford in the survey and GM vehicles showed the most improvement among domestic brands.

The biggest winners were hybrids and electric vehicles.

The slow-selling all-electric Leaf was Nissan's most reliable car and the plug-in hybrid Volt was Chevrolet's, both with above average reliability. Toyota's Prius family, the standard Prius hybrid, the hatchback wagon Prius v and the new plug-in Prius all were rated above average in predicted reliability.

Fisher said some Priuses have been on the road for more than a decade and have more than 200,000 miles on them with few problems with batteries and drivetrains.

"There's no rocket science to electric cars. There were electric cars before there were gas-powered cars. It seems to be a reliable technology," he said.

Overall, Toyota's three brands -- Scion, Toyota and Lexus -- were the most reliable sold in the United States, with 16 of the Japanese automakers' 27 models at the top of the ratings. Cadillac's CTS coupe was the most reliable domestic passenger car and at No. 11 and Cadillac was the most reliable U.S. brand.

The tiny Prius c had the survey's best score despite criticism from Consumer Reports for a stiff ride, excessive cabin noise and cheap-looking interior trim.

Mazda was No. 4 in the survey, Subaru fifth, Honda sixth, followed by Acura, Audi, Infiniti, Kia, Cadillac, GMC, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, Chevrolet, BMW, Hyundai and Volkswagen.

The least reliable vehicles in the survey were Jeep, Volvo, Buick, Mini, Chrysler, Dodge, Ram, Lincoln, Ford and Jaguar at 28th. Porsche was not included because of an inadequate sample size of vehicles.

The Consumer Reports survey tracks reliability of about 1.2 million vehicles as much as a decade old to predict the reliability of 2013 models that have not been completely redesigned. The survey averaged overall reliability scores for the 2008-12 model years.

Jeep not moving production from U.S. to China

Chrysler Group Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne sent an email to employees last week denying Chrysler plans to move Jeep production from the United States to China.

Ordinarily that would be no big deal to anyone except members of the United Auto Workers whose jobs might be affected, but in this political season it's become an issue in the presidential race.

Marchionne's email denied a Romney campaign ad called misleading by Democrats suggesting Chrysler was considering moving Jeep production from Ohio and Michigan to China. The Romney ad says Obama "took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to the Italians, who are going to build Jeeps in China."

While Chrysler has indicated it wants to build Jeeps in China for Chinese customers it has no plans to close any U.S. production facilities and will invest more than $1.7 billion to make the all-new SUV successor to the Jeep Liberty in Toledo. The Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango are made in Detroit.

"I feel obliged to unambiguously restate our position: Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China," Marchionne said in the email obtained by The Detroit News. Marchionne, who also heads Italy's Fiat, which bought Chrysler out of bankruptcy in 2009 and fully repaid its government loans, said Chrysler was "investing to improve and expand our entire U.S. operations, including our Jeep facilities."

"Jeep is one of our truly global brands with uniquely American roots. This will never change. So much so that we committed that the iconic Wrangler nameplate, currently produced in our Toledo, Ohio, plant will never see full production outside the United States. Jeep assembly lines will remain in operation in the United States and will constitute the backbone of the brand. It is inaccurate to suggest anything different," Marchionne wrote.

The Obama campaign countered with its own 30-second ad aired in Toledo, where the $85 billion industry bailout saved thousands of jobs, calling Romney's ad dishonest and a "lie."

Support for Obama among blue-collar workers in Ohio and other rust belt states is seen as vital to the president's re-election effort and Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton attacked the Romney ad, with Clinton pointing out during a campaign event that Obama's first car was a Jeep.

Chrysler reported selling 556,000 vehicles in the third-quarter. Profits rose 80 percent from the third quarter a year ago, to $381 million, and the company said it had $11.9 billion in cash with debt of $693 million.

During a conference call, Marchionne also said Fiat SpA would not close factories and plans to use money it set aside to acquire the remaining 41.5 percent of Chrysler stock it doesn't own to retool to produce more profitable vehicles in Europe, the News reported.

He said Fiat-Chrysler Group would build a smaller Jeep in Europe and Fiat would make a small SUV.

Later, a General Motors spokesman said a Romney campaign ad implying GM used bailout funds to hire more workers in China than in the United States showed there are "Hubble telescope-length distances between campaign ads and reality." He said GM was creating U.S. jobs and bringing global profits back to the United States.

A Romney campaign spokeswoman told the News the Obama campaign "is less concerned with engaging in a meaningful conversation about his failed policies and more concerned arguing against facts about their record they dislike."

Despite worsening losses in Europe, GM reported third-quarter earnings of $1.5 billion, exceeding expectations.

Chevrolet shows off 'old school' new V-8

It's a long way from the original 1953 small-block V-8 to the new LT1 engine in the all-new 2014 Corvette, but the power plant shares the heritage of the old Chevy V-8.

The aluminum block 6.2 liter LT1 engine has a camshaft inside the block rather than overhead and uses pushrods and rocker arms to work the valves. The design allows the Corvette to retain its signature wedge shape and front-engine, rear-wheel drive configuration.

With an 11.5:1 compression ratio, the new engine cranks out 450 horsepower without supercharging or turbocharging and GM's active management system improves fuel economy by shutting down four cylinders when the engine is cruising.

Fuel economy is expected to be similar to the 26 mpg on the highway the current manual shift, sixth-generation Corvette gets.

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