That's the message behind research firm Strategic Vision's latest Total Quality Index (TQI), a ranking of vehicles in 19 vehicle segments based on input by owners who bought the vehicles last year.
In the study, Toyota and Ford are tied in most segments, each having three vehicles on top: Toyota for the Yaris, and 4Runner and Sequoia SUVs; Ford for the Edge crossover, Mustang Convertible and F-250/350 trucks.
The San Diego-based firm surveyed some 20,655 owners on both problems --things that broke or went wrong--and on how delighted (or not) they were with things like vehicle amenities, interior design, ergonomics, controls, entertainment systems, and standard features.
"We look at how many problems you have, their severity, but also things that create delight in a product: headlights: function, design, ease of use. Furthermore, we look at what the vehicle did on an emotional level for customers," says Alexander Edwards, president of Strategic Vision's automotive division.
He says extra features, such as standard telematics devices (à la Ford's Sync), higher-quality buttons, better-designed controls, and better fabrics and aesthetically appealing paneling are more important now because the industry is reaching a limit in terms of how few problems each vehicle can have. "Twenty years ago, you could really count the problems. These days, the number of drivers reporting problems and the magnitude of the problems are much lower."
In the TQI, those who experienced a problem included about 20% of respondents who bought a Ford, 21% who bought a Toyota, 19% who bought a Honda and 26% who bought a Hyundai. "That's all very close, and frankly, it's going to be very difficult to get better and better at that," he says.
Toyota's other leading vehicles were the Scion xB and the Lexus RX 350 crossover, the latter in a dead heat with Land Rover's LR2. Ford also had wins with Mercury Sable and Volvo C30. In the mid-sized car segment, Volkswagen Jetta won Strategic Vision's survey; second place went to Chevrolet's Malibu sedan.
Other brands with winning vehicles: Mercedes for its S-Class and SL; Honda for the Ridgeline truck and Odyssey minivan; Chevrolet with the Corvette Convertible and Avalanche and Silverado pickups.
Hyundai, which led last year in three areas, only had one leader this year with the Santa Fe compact crossover SUV. The Volkswagen Jetta, Chrysler 300C and BMW X5 were each TQI leaders.
"Over the past quarter century in the U.S., customer perceptions of quality of domestic and Asian manufacturers underwent large swings. Today, it doesn't matter if you are a Toyota or a Ford, BMW or Hyundai--each manufacturer has the opportunity and mandate to produce a product with the right Cues of Quality--those product attributes that signal quality and create customer Trust--and present vehicles that have a greater impact on the purchase decision," says Alexander Edwards.