A Boost For GM, a Ding For Chrysler

New quality ratings could help decide whether to continue the automaker bailouts

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At General Motors headquarters in Detroit, there's finally a bit of vindication.

For several years, GM has been insisting that its cars and trucks are much better than the slapdash cookie-cutters that helped trash the automaker's reputation in the '80s and '90s. Executives frequently complain about a "perception gap" between the poor vehicle quality Americans expect, and GM cars that are supposedly as good as the competition.

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Now we don't just have to take GM's word for it. In the latest J.D.Power dependability study, GM's Buick division tied with Jaguar for the top spot, beating out Lexus and Toyota. That's a startling coup for GM, since Lexus, Toyota's luxury division, has long been considered a standard-setter that no competitor could catch. And it couldn't come at a more crucial time for GM, which is desperately trying to prove its mettle as it pleads for Phase II of a federal bailout that could ultimately cost taxpayers $40 billion.

There were other bright spots for GM in the J.D. Power study, which measures problems reported by owners during the first three years of ownership. GM's Cadillac division, for instance, tied with Honda and scored higher than Audi, BMW, and Mercedes. In 8 of 11 car segments, a GM model came in as one of the top three vehicles. That's important because GM neglected its passenger cars for 20 years while focusing on SUVs, and only recently realized it needs to revamp its lineup of family sedans and economy cars if it hopes to become competitive again.

[See 6 upsides to a GM bankruptcy.]

The J.D.Power ratings also reveal GM's weak spots. The four divisions GM has said it plans to wind down or sell - Saab, Hummer, Pontiac and Saturn - all scored below the industry average for dependability. That sure won't help unload them. And GM failed to place a vehicle in the top three in important segments like compact and premium crossovers.

For Chrysler, which is also pleading for bailout money and may be in even worse shape than GM, there was a lot less to cheer. The lone bright spot was its Dodge Caravan, the top-rated minivan. Other than that, not a single Chrysler, Dodge, or Jeep vehicle made it into the top three, out of 19 total categories. That reflects the general weakness of Chrysler's entire product line, one reason many auto analysts think Chrysler's days as a standalone automaker are ticking to a close.

[See the cars that drove Detroit’s customers away.]

The Chrysler nameplate scored just above average for dependability, but Dodge and Jeep were both below average. That represents yet another hole the No. 3. U.S. automaker needs to climb out of.

Toyota didn't dominate the rankings as it has in the past, but don’t shed any tears for the world’s biggest automaker. Between its Toyota, Lexus and Scion nameplates, the Japanese company earned top car in 10 of 19 categories. GM still has a long way to go if it hopes to match that.

General Motors
  • Rick Newman

    Rick Newman is the author of Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback to Success and the co-author of two other books. Follow him on Twitter or e-mail him at rnewman@usnews.com.

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