Detroit Carmakers Beat Imports for First Time Ever on Key List

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Joe Hinrichs, group vice president and president, Ford Motor Company Asia Pacific and Africa, at the 2010 Beijing Auto Show.
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Detroit got a dose of good news, yesterday. For the first time in the 24 year history of the JD Power and Associates Initial Quality Study American car makers beat out imports. Porsche still topped the list, but Ford was in the top five up there, along with luxury brands. That is the only time a mainstream American brand has been in that group. 

Since the list started quantifying quality through surveys with new car owners more than two decades ago, Japanese autos have consistently, on average, beat American cars. As a result of these rankings, imports began to be more widely perceived as better brands. Even though Ford and the rest of the Big Three have been improving on the list, public perception lags, particularly as GM and Chrysler struggled with bankruptcy. But Dave Sargent of JD Power and Associates told the Takeaway's and WNYC's Economics Editor, Charles Herman that this year isn't a turning point, just a landmark along a steady trend of American firms closing the gap on their Japanese counterparts:

"The lead that the Japanese held for many years has disapeared. The question now is can the US automakers continue this position. And secondly can they translate it into an improved quality image, because the image of US consumers have of US domestics still lags that of the Japanese."

Paul Eisenstein, publisher of the Detroit Bureau, explains how a list became so influential, and why this is as much a story of the rise of Ford as it is about the fall of Toyota.