Toyota’s Lexus plant in Cambridge tops in world

Company brands also improve in initial quality while Ford tumbles in annual J.D. Power study.

A Toyota assembly plant in Cambridge is now the world’s highest quality auto operation as the company’s recovers its overall lustre but Ford has lost some of its shine for satisfaction, according to a key industry study.

The annual J.D. Power and Associates report on initial auto quality revealed Thursday that Toyota’s south plant in Cambridge, which builds the Lexus RX 350 luxury sport utility vehicle, tied with two other operations in the U.S. and Japan for the best scores in a study of 121 factories around the world.

“This is a validation of the professionalism, skill and capabilities of our team members,” said Greig Mordue, general manager of corporate planning at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada. “It (the study results) captures the voices of our customers and customer satisfaction is our ultimate goal.”

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The study, which automakers and consumers watch closely, measured the responses of 73,000 U.S. motorists in a 128-questionnaire on the quality of their new vehicles after 90 days of ownership earlier this year.

The Cambridge south plant posted the best scores for a Canadian operation in the 25-year history of the study with only 24 defects and malfunctioning parts per 100 vehicles. It also marks the first time that a plant here has topped the international industry.

The plant contributed to Lexus’ overall jump from fourth to top spot in overall brand rankings with only 73 defects per 100 vehicles. Honda moved from sixth place to second spot while its luxury brand Acura slipped from second to third position.

Toyota, which owns Lexus, bounced back from 21st place to seventh place in the study of defects for 32 brands. As a result of a worldwide push by the company to pay more attention to quality, its overall score improved from 117 defects to 101 defects in the last year.

But Ford, which had experienced a remarkable turnaround in recent years, fell from fifth spot to 23rd place as defects climbed from 93 to 116 per 100 vehicles.

Ford chief executive officer Alan Mulally indicated recently the automaker is missing quality targets because of glitches with touch-screen dashboard controls and other new technologies but added the company will overcome them soon.

This year’s results represent the first time that overall industry quality has declined in four years J.D. Power, a leading consumer research firm, attributed it to software problems in new fuel- efficient engines and transmissions and difficulties with multimedia technology.

“Clearly, consumers are interested in having new technology in their vehicles but automakers must ensure that the technology is ready for prime time,” said David Sargent, the firm’s head of global vehicle research.

Ford, which is the industry sales leader in Canada, operates assembly plants in Oakville and St. Thomas and both of them posted initial quality scores below the industry average. J. D. Power would not release other details on each assembly plant in Canada.

The two Honda assembly plants in Alliston; Toyota’s north factory in Cambridge and its Woodstock site; General Motors operations in Ingersoll and a consolidated line in Oshawa are the other locations that performed above the industry average.

The Cambridge south plant, which is the only Toyota operation outside of Japan that builds premier Lexus brand models, has remained near the top of the annual J.D. Power rankings for several years.

“It’s a remarkable achievement for Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada, the Lexus brand and the Canadian assembly associates to improve on last year’s stellar performance,” said Ryan Robinson, a senior official at J.D. Power in Canada.

The overall brand results are a reversal from 2010 when Toyota slumped significantly after a series of recalls to solve braking and acceleration problems while Ford’s quality soared. It is the first time Ford’s score has dropped below the industry average since 2008.

In addition to Lexus and Acura, other luxury auto brands dominated the top end of the industry rankings. They included Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Infiniti and Cadillac.

Mazda and GMC also posted significant improvements to break into the top ten. Chrysler climbed from 23rd spot to 16th position but its Dodge brand slid from 28th to 32nd and last place in quality.

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