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Buick, Lexus Tie in Dependability Study

Buick tied with Lexus as the highest-ranking brand in a closely watched study of vehicle dependability, marking the first time in 12 years that Lexus has shared the top award, J.D. Power and Associates said Thursday.

Cadillac, Mercury and Honda rounded out the top five brands in the annual survey, which measures problems experienced by the original owners of three-year-old vehicles. Both Buick and Lexus had 145 problems per 100 vehicles. The worst-performing brand, Land Rover, had 398 problems. The industry average was 216 problems, down from 227 problems in last year's survey.

"People don't have to necessarily spend premium money to get equal value," said Neal Oddes, director of product research and analysis for J.D. Power. "That's good news for people."

That's also good news for General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said the automaker is moving toward its goal of Buick becoming a direct competitor to Lexus, with the same level of quality and elegance - but selling for $10,000 to $15,000 less.

"Increasingly it's becoming evident that it's exactly coming out the way we planned," he said Thursday.

An official with Toyota Motor, which owns Lexus, says the company is pleased that its Toyota, Lexus and Scion divisions took 10 of 19 segment awards and doesn't see a problem when other automakers improve.

"It's always good to see the industry ... as a whole perform better than prior years - that's a positive trend for consumers," Bob Carter, group vice president and general manager for the Toyota division, said Thursday.

"It continues to push the benchmarks even higher."

The 2007 survey is based on the responses of 53,000 owners of 2004 model year vehicles. The survey gives all problems equal weight.

Oddes said the most frequent problem cited is wind noise, followed by noisy brakes, seat belts that fail to retract, poor ride handling and uneven wear on tires. Oddes said complaints about seats and interiors rose slightly this time around, but in most categories, complaints were down.

Retaining Value

In segment breakdowns, Lexus had five winners, including the midsize GS 300 and LS 430 sedan, while Toyota had four, including the Tundra and Tacoma pickups. The most-improved brand in the 2007 survey was Hummer, which improved its score to 242 problems per 100 vehicles from 307 last year. The most-improved vehicles were the Volvo XC90 and Audi A6, which both eliminated 104 problems, Oddes said.

The survey found that 65% of owners experienced one or more problems that required components to be replaced. Oddes said owners understand that some parts, such as brake pads, need to be replaced, but if they have to replace expensive items such as transmissions or if they have to replace smaller parts more often than they expect, they will keep their vehicle an average of one year less and will be less likely to consider that brand in the future.

Oddes said vehicles with strong dependability numbers can retain up to 15% more of their value over three years. That helps consumers selling used vehicles as well as automakers and dealers, which may be able to sell a dependable vehicle two or three times over its lifetime.

J.D. Power's results are watched closely by automakers and are often used in advertising. The firm also releases an initial quality study, which measures problems in the first 90 days of ownership, but the dependability results are important to automakers because the way owners feel about their vehicles after three years can have a big impact on their decision to buy another vehicle of that brand.

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