Auto Outlook: Detroit Three improving in dependability

Feb. 24, 2013 at 5:30 AM
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The Chicago Auto Show wrapped up a 10-day run Presidents' Day and while final attendance numbers aren't in, organizers said it remains the best attended auto show in the United States.

Attendance was up 10 percent from 2012 thanks to mild winter weather.

Show-goers needed plenty of time to negotiate traffic to reach parking lots in and around the lakefront McCormick Place Exposition Center during the holiday weekend.

The final day was Family Day, appropriate for a consumer-oriented show that included more than 1,000 vehicles on the floor but fewer new-model introductions this year.

Most of the new models and concepts had family in mind. Chevrolet showed the 2014 Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel, which features a German-made, 140-horsepower, 2-liter turbodiesel that has been available in Europe for more than a year.

Chevy estimates the U.S. version of the oil-burner -- base price $25,695 -- will get 42 mpg on the highway with an automatic transmission.

South Korea's Kia showed the 2014 Kia Forte 5-door, a hatchback version of the Kia Forte that will be available with a 173-horsepower, 2-liter four-cylinder engine or 1.6-liter turbo when it reaches showrooms this fall.

The concept Kia Cross GT, a lower, longer, more luxurious hybrid crossover sport utility vehicle, is built on the same platform as the Kia GT. The concept pairs a 3.8-liter V-6 with an electric motor.

Less family friendly were Volkswagen's Beetle GSR -- a high-performance version of the Beetle featuring a 210-hoursepower 2-liter four-cylinder engine -- and Nissan's 2014 GT-R track edition, a limited production version of Nissan's 545-horsepower super car.

Toyota unveiled its redesigned full-sized Tundra pickup, the first major redesign for the big truck in six years.

Study: Vehicle reliability improving

Most domestic automakers have improved new vehicle dependability but only one U.S. brand, Lincoln, stands head-to-head with Japan and Germany's best, the latest J.D. Power and Associates vehicle dependability study said.

The 2013 study, based on the number of problems reported during the first year of ownership from more than 37,000 owners of 2010 model vehicles, ranked Lincoln among the very best along with Lexus, Porsche and Toyota.

J.D. Power said overall dependability averaged 126 problems per 100 vehicles, a five percent improvement from last year's average of 132 problems per 100 vehicles.

"It is great news for consumers," Raffi Festekjian, J.D. Power's director of automotive global research operations, told the Los Angeles Times. "Manufacturers continue to keep their eye on the ball and improve quality.

"Our data show that the dependability is better and that gives consumers confidence," he said. "If they are experiencing fewer problems they will hold on to the vehicles longer."

Automotive research firm R.L. Polk found consumers are keeping their new vehicles longer, around six years. Redesigned models averaged 116 problems per 100 vehicles.

"There is a perception that all-new models, or models that undergo a major redesign, are more problematic than carryover models," David Sargent, J.D. Power vice president of global automotive operations, said in a statement.

"The rapid improvement in fundamental vehicle dependability each year is more than offsetting any initial glitches that all-new or redesigned models may have."

Detroit Three automakers introducing dozens of new or redesigned models saw reliability improve by three problems per 100 vehicles.

Toyota's luxury nameplate, Lexus, was ranked No. 1 with 71 problems per 100 vehicles followed by Porsche (94) and Lincoln and Toyota (112); Mercedes-Benz (115), Buick (118), Honda (119), Acura (120), Ram and Suzuki (122), Mazda (126) and Chevrolet (125).

Ford averaged 127 problems per 100 vehicles, Cadillac (128), Subaru (132), BMW (133), GMC (134), Scion (135), Nissan (137), Infiniti (138), Kia (140) and Hyundai (141), Audi (147), Volvo (149), Mini (150), Chrysler (153), Jaguar (164), Volkswagen (174), Jeep (178), Dodge (190) and Land Rover (220).

The Scion xD was the highest ranked subcompact; the Toyota Prius the No. 1 compact car; the Mazda MX-5 Miata most reliable sporty compact and the Nissan Z top compact premium sporty car.

The Chevrolet Camaro was top midsize sporty car, the Hyundai Sonata highest-ranked midsize car, Buick Lucerne best large car, Lexus ES350 most dependable entry premium car, Audi A6 top midsize premium car and the Scion xB best compact multi-purpose vehicle,

Toyota's RAV4 was the highest-ranked compact crossover/SUV, Honda Crosstour top midsize crossover, Chevrolet Tahoe best large crossover/SUV, Lexus RX No. 1 entry premium crossover/SUV and Toyota Sienna, highest-ranked minivan.

Auto bailout losses narrow

The U.S. Treasury Department got good information this month on the cost of the 2009 auto industry bailout.

Because of a rebound in the share price for General Motors Co. stock, the government's estimate of losses on the $85 billion auto bailout fell by $4 billion to $20.3 billion. The previous quarterly estimate of losses was $24.3 billion.

Treasury sold 200 million of its 500 million share stake in GM for $5.5 billion, leaving the government with a 19 percent stake in the nation's largest automaker.

When the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler began the government estimated it would lose a whopping $44 billion. The Detroit News estimates GM shares would have to sell at $70 for the government to break even on the bailout.

GM shares closed Friday at $27.11.

Fiat wants more of Chrysler

Fiat-Chrysler Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne has met with bankers to arrange backing for purchasing the remainder of Chrysler not owned by the Italian conglomerate.

Chrysler made $1.7 billion last year and is surging in the United States while Fiat SpA sales languish in Europe. Sources told The Detroit News Fiat needs a $3 billion to $5 billion bridge loan to buy the Chrysler shares held by the United Auto Workers trust.

Meanwhile, Chrysler confirmed it will not build the luxury Maserati Levente at its Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit.

The Levante, which shares a platform with the new 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee luxury sport utility vehicle, will be assembled at Fiat's Miarfiori plant in Turin, Italy.

"The reason for the decision is very simple: The production capacity of (Jefferson North) is going to be absorbed completely by the Grand Cherokee and Durango," a Chrysler spokesman told the News. "The success of the Grand Cherokee is beyond expectations. The biggest complaint we have from dealers is that they cannot get enough Grand Cherokees."

Chrysler sold more than 154,000 Jeep Grand Cherokees in the United States last year, up more than 21 percent from 2011.

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