Buick cracks list of top 3 most reliable automakers, ending 35-year losing streak for American brands

Buick: 1st domestic brand in top 3 auto reliability
Buick: 1st domestic brand in top 3 auto reliability

After years of foreign automakers dominating the industry's reliability surveys, an American brand has finally joined the ranks of those building the best vehicles: Buick.

According to Consumer Reports' latest auto reliability survey, the near-luxury brand from General Motors climbed four slots to rank third, after Lexus and Toyota. It's the first time a domestic brand has finished in the top three in more than 35 years. (See below for the full list of rankings.)

"If you look at the top three it is Toyotta and Lexus, no surprise there," said Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing at Consumer Reports. "But above any of the Japanese automakers — above Honda, above Subaru — we see Buick, and that is a big deal."

As Buick has moved into the top three in reliability, Honda has slumped. The automaker this year fell two slots to No. 10, according to Consumer Reports.

"Honda really made a huge change with the Civic this year," Fisher said, explaining that the company redesigned everything from the powertrain to the infotainment system. "They have improved the car in the way it drives but they are stumbling with getting the reliability right."

A spokesman for Honda told CNBC in a statement, "We greatly value both customer and third-party feedback as we assess the customer experience with advanced technologies we are applying to our products to meet their desire for connectivity, entertainment and other functions. We will continue working diligently to enhance the usability and functionality of these in demand technologies in our unrelenting effort to create new value for our customers."

Consumer Reports' Annual Brand Reliability Survey is considered by most in the auto industry to be a bellwether for how automakers are doing when it comes to building dependable vehicles.

The results are based on the responses of more than 7 million Consumer Reports subscribers who are asked to comment on the problems they are experiencing with their vehicles.

Among the other noteworthy results in the survey:

Volkswagen showed the biggest drop of any brand in the survey, falling nine spots to rank 22nd out of 29;

Fiat Chrysler had the four lowest-ranked brands, with the Ram pickup truck earning the bottom score in the survey;

Tesla, included in the survey for the first time, finished 25th. The low ranking was due largely to the company's new Model X, which was rated as the least reliable midsize luxury SUV.

"The Model X out of the gate is very problematic," Fisher said. "A lot of the problems have to do with the complex doors. The falcon wing doors are kind of an accident waiting to happen."

In a statement to CNBC, a Tesla representative said, "We are committed to making the world's most reliable cars. The amount of issues we've addressed with Model X has fallen by 92 percent in the last 12 months, a reflection of our ability to make continuous improvements and react quickly. This commitment is one of the reasons why Tesla won AutoPacific's highest vehicle satisfaction award in 2016."

In response to its low rankings, a spokesperson for Fiat Chrysler told CNBC that "the company values all feedback from our customers and third-party evaluators, including Consumer Reports, as it helps guide our product improvements."

"Our internal quality surveys and measurements continue to show positive growth toward vehicle quality and dependability across our brands. Additionally, it's important to note that the Ram truck brand finished in the top 10 of automakers in J.D. Power's 2016 Vehicle Dependability Study. With that being said, we encourage customers to experience our vehicles for themselves."

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