General Motors Co. topped all automakers in this year's J.D. Power & Associates Initial Quality Study for the first time in the 27-year history of the influential consumer survey. The Detroit automaker even outranked perennial leaders Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co.
Three of GM's four U.S. brands improved their quality rankings in 2013, with its GMC brand finishing second only to Porsche in the rankings released Wednesday at a meeting in Detroit of the Automotive Press Association. And all but two domestic auto brands boosted or maintained their standings in the study compared to 2012.
It was a shot in the arm for Detroit automakers as they continue their campaign to convince Americans that the quality of their cars and trucks rivals foreign brands.
All four of GM's brands -- GMC, Chevrolet, Cadillac and Buick -- beat the industry average in the survey, which measures problems per 100 vehicles in the first 90 days of ownership.
Automakers averaged 113 problems per 100 vehicles in 2013. The survey of new car and truck owners does not measure overall satisfaction; it counts the number of flaws -- including mechanical and design problems.
A majority of owner-reported issues in new vehicles are design-related and not manufacturing defects. And many are problems owners have with their vehicle involve human-machine interface, which includes hands-free technology, Bluetooth pairing for mobile phones and navigation systems. Twenty-two percent of problems in this year's study dealt with audio, entertainment and navigation systems.
GMC, at 90 problems per 100 vehicles, jumped 10 spots in this year's rankings, finishing second overall behind luxury automaker Porsche, which had 80 problems per 100 cars. Chevrolet, the fifth-highest brand, had 97 problems per 100; Cadillac, which fell 10 spots compared to 2012, had 108 problems; and Buick, up two spots, had 109.
"GMC has never been higher than ninth," said David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power. "The big trucks -- phenomenal in terms of their quality."
Sargent noted that GM benefited from extremely high-quality trucks, but said a high number of new vehicle launches in 2014 will make it unlikely GM can maintain the same quality numbers next year. It often takes automakers a year or two to work out the bugs in a new car or truck.
Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln luxury brand matched the industry average of 113 problems. Ford vehicles, however, were dragged down by the problematic infotainment system MyFord Touch; they averaged 131 problems per 100 cars and finished 27th in this year's study. Ford was also 27th in 2012.
Ford consumers buy vehicles with Sync -- the company's voice-activation system -- or MyFord touch at a much higher rate than their competitors' customers with similar tech systems, therefore magnifying the total number of problems.
Sargent believes Ford's quality ratings will improve in coming years. Ford is bringing back button controls in refreshed models and will simplify controls and streamline problems with a new MyFord Touch update this summer.
One Chrysler Group LLC brand -- Chrysler, with 109 problems per 100 -- beat the industry average. Its Jeep (118), Dodge (130), Ram (132) and Fiat (154) brands finished in the bottom 12, though all brands except Ram, which fell 16 spots, improved on their last year's standings.
Toyota Motor Corp. was the Jekyll and Hyde of this year's study. While its Lexus luxury brand and Toyota mass-market brand ranked as the third- and seventh-best brands, respectively, its Millennial-targeted Scion brand finished dead last, averaging 161 problems per 100.
Foreign automakers continued to dominate individual segment awards. Foreign models won 16 of 23 segment honors; GM's Chevrolet Avalanche, GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado swept the light-duty and heavy-duty pickup segments.
Hyundai Motor Co. jumped 10 spots and was the eighth-highest ranked brand in 2013. Nissan Motor Co. had the biggest drop among brands, falling 18 spots to No. 30. The Japanese automaker averaged 142 problems per 100 vehicles in 2013.