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Published: Thursday, 6/21/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Study: In-car technology confusing

Vehicle quality at all-time high

REUTERS
J.D. Power and Associates found that Lexus makes the best-quality cars in the United States. Complaints about technology continue to hurt Ford Motor Co., which fell to 27th from 23rd a year ago. The survey found fewer complaints about wind and road noise, engine problems, or other traditional quality issues. J.D. Power and Associates found that Lexus makes the best-quality cars in the United States. Complaints about technology continue to hurt Ford Motor Co., which fell to 27th from 23rd a year ago. The survey found fewer complaints about wind and road noise, engine problems, or other traditional quality issues.
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DETROIT -- Consumers continue to be baffled by new technology such as voice-activated controls in their cars and trucks, but overall, vehicle quality in the United States has never been higher, J.D. Power and Associates said Wednesday.

Owner complaints about technology continued to hurt Ford Motor Co.'s standing in the influential annual survey of new-vehicle buyers. Ford fell to 27th from 23rd a year ago. Just two years ago, before MyFord Touch and Ford's voice-activated Sync control systems were rolled out to more models, Ford was fifth in the survey, the best showing among nonluxury brands.

This year, Honda Motor Co. grabbed the coveted spot as top non-luxury brand in the survey, which expanded to include 34 auto brands, up from 32 a year ago.

For the second straight year, Lexus, Toyota Motor Corp.'s luxury brand, topped the survey, which asks owners to rate the quality of their new 2012 vehicles in the first 90 days of ownership. The survey was conducted from February to May.

The survey showed that overall quality has never been better for new cars, and there are far fewer complaints about wind and road noise, engine problems, or other more traditional quality issues, J.D. Power officials said.

Chrysler Group LLC returned mixed results. Jeep rose two places from last year's survey to 23rd place this year. The brand's Grand Cherokee finished in a four-way tie for third place in the midsize crossover/sport utility vehicle category -- the only category in which a Jeep product placed in the top three.

Dodge, last in the 2011 survey, was up three spots to 29th. The Ram brand was the highest-ranking Chrysler product, shooting up eight spots to 14th. With a score of 99 complaints per 100 vehicles sold, Ram was the only Chrysler product to better the industry average of 102 complaints per 100 vehicles sold.

The Chrysler brand fell steeply, however, dropping nine spots to 25th place despite the new Chrysler 300 model finishing third in the large-car category.

Fiat SpA, Chrysler's parent company finished at the bottom of the rankings, tied with Daimler's Smart brand. The bottom four brands in the survey offer only subcompact cars in the United States.

For all brands, hands-free devices in new vehicles not recognizing voice commands has become the most often reported problem cited in the survey, said Dave Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power and Associates.

Until the last several years, he said, hands-free controls were rare, but this year, more than 80 percent of new owners said their vehicles have some form of hands-free controls.

Mr. Sargent said most consumers whose hands-free and touch-screen systems function well do like them. In Ford's case, he said, customers say they are attracted to some Ford models because of the high level of new technology in them.

"You could almost say that Ford took one for the team," said Mr. Sargent. "They went early, they went big, and a lot of learning has come from that, not only for Ford, but everybody else has benefited by Ford being the first to go over the top."

U.S. consumers and automakers are on a learning curve when it comes to voice-activated controls and other new technology in vehicles, Mr. Sargent said. Over time, quality scores will improve. However, he said, "the onus is on the automakers to make things simpler."

In the overall rankings, Lexus was followed by Jaguar, Porsche, and General Motors' Cadillac brand. He said that GM's showing was above the industry average for the first time since 2009, and that collectively, GM brands performed at the highest level in the survey's 26-year history.

Toyota and its Lexus brand combined to have five models that claimed best-in-segment awards, the best showing among any manufacturer. While Ford's overall rating was down -- one of only five brands to show a drop -- it along with Lexus had three models named best-in-segment.

Blade business writer Tyrel Linkhorn contributed to this report.



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