Auto Outlook: Lexus most dependable for 3rd year, new GM chief royalty

By AL SWANSON, UPI Auto Writer
A 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport is on display at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show held at the Convention Center in Los Angeles, California on November 20, 2013. UPI/Phil McCarten | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/234149f0df5c718da2468c6396e88cf8/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
A 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport is on display at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show held at the Convention Center in Los Angeles, California on November 20, 2013. UPI/Phil McCarten | License Photo

Complaints about vehicles with 4-cylinder engines and transmissions led to the first decline in the J.D. Power & Associates yearly dependability study in 15 years.

J.D. Power, which asks consumers about how trouble-free their vehicles were during the first three years of ownership, found the number of problems per vehicle increased for the first time since 1998 compared to the previous year.


The U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study, which has been conducted for 25 years, is based on responses from more than 41,000 original owners of 2011 model-year vehicles after three years of ownership.

Leading the list of complaints were problems with engines and transmissions of cars with 4-cylinder engines, which are rapidly replacing V-6 engines as manufacturers work to develop drivetrains that meet tough federal fuel efficiency standards that will mandate 54.5 mpg in 2025.

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"Automakers are continually looking for ways to improve fuel economy, which is a primary purchase motivator for many consumers, particularly those buying smaller vehicles," said Dave Sargent, J.D. Power vice president of global automotive. "However, while striving to reduce fuel consumption, automakers must be careful not to compromise quality. Increases in such problems as engine hesitation, rough transmission shifts and lack of power indicate that this is a continuing challenge."


For the third consecutive year, Lexus was the most dependable brand by a wide margin averaging 68 problems per 100 vehicles, followed by Mercedes-Benz with 104; Cadillac, 107, and Acura, 109.

Buick was sixth with 112 problems per 100 vehicles, Honda, Lincoln and Toyota tied for seventh with 114; Porsche, 125; Infiniti, 128; BMW, 130; Subaru, 131; and Chevrolet, Jaguar and Mazda, 132.

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GMC was right at the industry average for the 31 brands at 133. Vehicles averaged 126 problems per 100 in the 2013 survey.

Ford owners reported 140 problems per 100 vehicles; Nissan, 142; Audi and Kia, 151; Volvo, 152; Scion, 153; Chrysler, 155; Volkswagen, 158; Ram, 165; Mitsubishi, 166; Hyundai, 169; Jeep, 178; Land Rover, 179; Dodge, 181, and Mini Cooper, 185.

By segment, the Honda Fit was the highest-ranked sub-compact, Chevrolet Volt, best compact car; Lexus ES, compact premium car; Mini Cooper, compact sporty car; Toyota Camry, midsize car; Chevrolet Camaro, midsize sporty car; Lexus GS, midsize premium car; Cadillac DTS and Lexus LS tied for highest ranked large premium car, and Buick Lucerne, most dependable large car.

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The Honda Element, discontinued in 2011, was the highest-ranked, sub-compact crossover utility vehicle; Honda CR-V, compact CUV; Acura RDX, compact premium CUV; Scion xB, compact MPV; Honda Crosstour, midsize CUV; Lexus RX, midsize premium CUV; Honda Ridgeline, midsize pickup; Toyota Sienna, minivan; GMC Yukon, large CUV; Cadillac Escalade, large premium CUV; GMC Sierra LD, large light duty pickup, and GMC Sierra HD, large heavy duty pickup.


It's good to be queen

General Motors Co. revealed last week Mary T. Barra, the daughter of a die maker at Pontiac who rose to become the automaker's new chief executive officer, will make $14.4 million in 2014.

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Barra, an electrical engineer, started at GM at age 18 as a co-op student in 1980 and later managed the Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly plant.

Her total compensation package could pay Barra 60 percent more in her first year at the helm of the Detroit carmaker than former CEO Dan Akerson was paid in his final year on the job.

GM earned $3.77 billion last year, down 22.4 percent from 2012, but much of that was due to higher taxes and restructuring costs. The company said it expects "moderately" improved earnings in 2014. GM has posted profits for 16 straight quarters since emerging from bankruptcy in 2009.

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The New York Times said GM made Barra's compensation package public to silence critics and commentators who said she would be paid less than Akerson, who earned about $9 million in compensation last year.

"The company released the full figures [two months] ahead of its proxy filing in April to correct misperceptions created by comparisons that used only a portion of Barra's overall compensation," GM said in a statement.


Executive compensation at GM was capped by the U.S. Treasury Department while the government was a major stockholder. GM is free now to compensate executives as it wishes since the treasury sold its final block of GM shares in December.

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GM's stockholders will be asked to approve about $10 billion in Barra's long-term compensation in June, but the vote at the company's annual meeting is non-binding, the Times said.

"As a new CEO, Mary's total compensation is in line with her peer group and properly weighted so that most is at-risk," GM Chairman Theodore Solso said in a statement. "The company's performance will ultimately determine how much she is paid."

Barra, 52, told auto industry analysts: "We clearly have a lot of work ahead to make all of our regions solidly and consistently profitable. It's going to be a multi-year journey that will include brand building, significant reductions in material and logistics costs and overall lower fixed cost."

Toyota to end production in Australia

Toyota last week became the latest big automaker to announce plans to stop producing vehicles in Australia.

Last year, both Ford and General Motors-Holden said they would halt production in Australia in 2016 and 2017, respectively, leaving only Toyota to manufacture its Camry, Camry Hybrid and larger Aurion sedans.


Toyota ended speculation Monday announcing it would halt car and engine production by the end of 2017. The announcement signals an end of a century of auto manufacturing in Australia and comes at a time when economic growth down under has slowed while labor costs have climbed.

"The decision was not based on any single factor," Toyota said in a statement. "The market and economic factors contributing to the decision include the unfavorable Australian dollar that makes imports unviable, high costs of manufacturing and low economies of scale for our vehicle production and local supplier base."

Toyota has built cars in Australia for 50 years employing some 2,500 workers and with other automakers creating tens of thousands of industry-related jobs at suppliers.

About 50,000 of Australia's nearly 1 million manufacturing jobs are in the automobile industry, the Wall Street Journal said, while the Australian dollar hovers in near parity with the U.S. dollar, hurting exports.

"This is devastating news for all of our employees who have dedicated their lives to the company during the past 50 years," said Toyota Australia President and Chief Executive Officer Max Yasuda.

"We did everything that we could to transform our business, but the reality is that there are too many factors beyond our control that make it unviable to build cars in Australia."


Toyota upgrades software for 1.9 million Prius hybrids

Toyota recalled nearly 2 million Prius cars to fix a software problem that could damage electronic circuits in the gas-electric hybrid.

The recall affects Prius models from 2010 to 2014 -- 1 million cars in Japan, 713,000 in North American and 200,000 in Europe and elsewhere -- and the fix will be made with new software.

Toyota warned the current software can allow some circuits in the car to heat up, activating dashboard warning lights, and in rare cases causing the vehicle to stall.

No accidents or injuries have been blamed on the problem, the Japanese automaker said.

Toyota sold more than 234,000 Prius models in the United States in 2014, and the Prius remains the top-selling vehicle in California.

Toyota also plans to update software on some 2012 RAV4 crossover utility vehicles, 2012-13 Tacoma pickups and 2012-13 Lexus RX350 luxury crossover utility vehicles that may have a glitch that could turn off traction control, anti-lock brakes and vehicle stability control.

Toyota, the world's No. 1 automaker, led all car companies in U.S. recalls in 2013 calling back nearly 5.3 million vehicles.

Car museum sinkhole nightmare

A 40-foot wide sinkhole opened up last week at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky., and swallowed eight Corvettes.


Six of the collectible sports cars were owned by the museum and two were on loan from General Motors.

Bowling Green firefighters estimate the sinkhole in the museum's Skydome exhibition area was 25 to 30 feet deep.

At the bottom of hole were a classic 1962 black Corvette, a 1984 PPG Pace Car, a white 1992 Corvette that was the 1 millionth produced and was donated by Chevrolet, a 1993 Ruby Red 40th Anniversary Corvette, a 2001 Mallett Hammer Z06 Corvette and a white 2009 Corvette was the 1.5 millionth made.

Two others swallowed -- a vintage 1993 ZR-1 Spyder and a 2009 ZR1 Blue Devil -- were on loan from Chevrolet.

The (Louisville) Courier-Journal said museum staff was allowed to remove a one-of-a-kind prototype 1983 Corvette from danger.

"It is with heavy hearts that we report that eight Corvettes were affected by this incident," the museum said in a statement.

The 20-year-old museum remained but the Skydome was closed to visitors. The museum is located just a quarter mile from GM's Bowling Green Assembly plant, which builds the Corvette.

The cause of the sinkhole is under investigation, but a geology professor at Western Kentucky University told the Courier-Journal sinkholes are common the region because of numerous underground caves that grow over time.


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