But does it still? Not if you look at the latest data. Domestic brands have been rapidly climbing in critical quality measurements such as the Initial Quality Survey and the Total Quality Index released by California-based research firm Strategic Visions. According to the TQI, Motown manufacturers led or at least tied for the lead in 12 of 21 individual vehicle categories.
While Volkswagen had the highest score of any manufacturer, GM had more segment winners, products like the midsize Chevrolet Volt plug-in, and the Chevy Traverse crossover. In fact, the domestic giant scored wins in twice as many segments—six in all—than the traditional quality leader, Toyota.
"There's no questioning domestic car makers want to lead," said Alexander Edwards, President of Strategic Vision. "For the first time in over a decade our comprehensive and complete study of Quality resulted in more domestic winners than imports."
The results of the Total Quality Index don't appear to be a fluke. In one study after another, GM, Ford and Chrysler have been gaining momentum.
While Lexus led in the latest J.D. Power Customer Service Index—and measure of how dealers perform—Cadillac was close behind and the GMC marque led among mass market brands.
GM's surge in such studies is particularly noteworthy because it lagged behind not only the imports but also its cross-town rival Ford for a number of years. Ford has taken some hits lately for problems with its Sync infotainment system and a high-efficiency transmission used on some of its products. Nonetheless, the second-largest of the domestic makers has been building a strong reputation for quality and customer service, according to analysts.
(Read more at The Detroit Bureau: GM, Nissan Partner Up on New Chevy Truck)
Even Chrysler, long the domestic laggard in terms of quality and reliability, has been gaining ground since emerging from bankruptcy in 2009. Chrysler has performed especially well in terms of so-called "things-gone-right" surveys that focus on what delights consumers rather than what might be otherwise ignored as insignificant problems.
"In today's market, it's difficult to find a low quality vehicle," said George Peterson, president of AutoPacific, Inc., a California-based research firm. "The quality of vehicles from all manufacturers has risen to the highest level in history and what delineates a car or truck is owner satisfaction."
AutoPacific's most recent Vehicle Satisfaction Awards found the Cadillac Escalade was the single highest-rated model, while Buick tied perennial leader Mercedes-Benz as the most satisfying brand. (GM also had more segment winners in this study, seven in all, than any other manufacturer.)
(Read more at The Detroit Bureau: Honda Will Build New Acura NSX Supercar in the US)