Quality Gap Narrows Between Carmakers, Countries

By Blake Z. Rong | February 22, 2012
Car shoppers have never had it so well. If you're shopping for a new car, take a second and ask your parents or grandfather what it's like to have a Dodge Aspen rust on its way back from the showroom, or a Hyundai Excel that did anything but fulfill its name's lofty aspirations. Or maybe you remember, growing up, the times spent on the side of the road because your Alfa Romeo Milano's engine exploded after 3,000 miles. Either way, today's consumers have it lucky. The gaps in quality between makes, models, and countries of origin are slimming down to virtually nothing. Unless you've recently lost a bet with your local pastor, there's little chance of buying a lemon now—global competition has evened the playing field, so that a car built in Dearborn, Mich., is now the same quality as one built in Asan, Korea, or Saitama, Japan. Just 25 years ago, Honda and Toyota were in the top of the sales pile, owing to their slow, yet relentless improvements to small cars that would simply keep on going even 200,000 or more miles later. Meanwhile, General Motors was trying frantically to make sure consumers forgot about the disastrous Citation and and loathsome Vega, and Hyundai nearly pulled out of the country when its aforementioned Excel first became a hit, then a repair queen.
But now? Both Japanese companies have survived through turmoil: Honda with a spate of airbag problems and a disappointing Civic; and Toyota with one of the most extensive and expensive recalls in American history—one that surely would send a Ford executive, with memories of Firestone tires and exploding Pintos, laughing to the bank. Ford, in fact, has improved its own fate after its turbulent, tumultuous 1990s: it holds the unenviable title of holding the most expensive vehicle recall in history, when it was forced to take back 7.9 million vehicles in 1996 to correct potential steering column fires. Over the past 3 years, however, Ford's quality improvements can be quantified in their J.D. Power and Associates scores, which have been rising steadily every year—and this year, Ford actually landed above Honda on this year's dependability ranking. And after years of famously gorging itself on profitable trucks while continuing to produce execrable machinery like the Lumina and Cavalier, General Motors is back in the passenger car business with an excellent Chevrolet Cruze and a new Malibu around the corner that should be thoroughly competitive. It's a good time to buy a car. Source: Washington Post