Are American Cars Back at the Top of Their Game?

For the first time since 1993, all of the Big Three Detroit automakers — General Motors (NYSE:GM), Ford (NYSE:F), and Chrysler — gained market share in the United States in the first quarter. As market share grew, sales did as well. The U.S. automakers posted bigger sales gains than both Toyota (NYSE:TM) and Honda (NYSE:HMC), with sales increases of 10 percent, 17 percent, and 10 percent for GM, Ford, and Chrysler, respectively. The momentum built in April; the Michigan-based companies exceeded sales forecasts last month and led the industry to its best April since 2007. So it seems American automakers have regained a foothold at the top of the market.

The renaissance in Detroit is real,” AutoNation Chief Executive Mike Jackson told Bloomberg last month.

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Further evidence that lends support to this idea was given to investors in the form of Strategic Vision’s 18th annual Total Quality Index, which ranked vehicles manufactured by General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler Group first or tied for first in 12 of 21 categories included in the vehicle quality survey. It was the first time in more than a decade that a majority of winners were Ford, GM, and Chrysler models, according to the press release announcing the results.

For thirty years, these manufacturers produced vehicles that were below standard, and that practice lost them the loyalty of the 75 million-member baby boomer generation. But that poor reputation is falling by the wayside as management at these automakers implement across-the-board improvements in quality, which have enabled them to close in on the once-dominant Toyota.

Ford’s Fusion sedan and GM’s Chevrolet Volt tied in the mid-size car segment, while Ford’s F-250 and F-350 topped the list for heavy-duty pickup trucks. GM’s GMC Yukon, Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Corvette, Avalanche, and Traverse coupe led categories as well.

“There’s no questioning domestic car makers want to lead. For the first time in over a decade our comprehensive and complete study of Quality resulted in more domestic winners than imports,”  Strategic Vision president Alexander Edwards said in the announcement. “Don’t misunderstand, imports like Hyundai are a force to be reckoned with and Toyota has regrouped with Total Quality winners Lexus LS, Tacoma and FJ Cruiser. However, domestics are running in the tight race also, and it’s now forcing all manufacturers to build the most superior, innovative and holistically Quality vehicles possible to gain the hearts and minds of the customer.”

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Volkswagen was the best overall corporation in total quality for the eighth consecutive year, and its luxury brand Audi tied with Lexus for the best individual brand. Ford came second, followed by General Motors, which tied Hyundai for third place.

The goal of the survey is to capture “the hearts and minds of the customer’s decision-making.” The firm ranks vehicles on a scale of one to five, where five is “love it,” four is “delightful,” three is “excellent,” two is “satisfactory,” and one is “a failure.” Edwards explained that Strategic Vision employs “specific aspects of specific emotions to create a scale that captures concrete judgments with great clarity,” Tuesday’s results were based on data from 17,568 buyers who purchased 2013 models from September to November 2012.

You can follow Meghan on Twitter (@MFoley_WSCS) for the latest industry news.

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