The automotive industry improved initial quality by 10% compared to 2001, the largest quality improvement for the industry since 1997, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2002 Initial Quality Study. Initial quality has improved by 24% during the past five years.

General Motors Corp. ranked third in new-car ratings, the highest of the domestic automakers and the best showing ever for a Detroit manufacturer. But GM still lags behind Japanese automakers Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Corp., which took first and second place honors, respectively.

J.D. Power releases data on the best performing individual cars and trucks to the public, but the corporate-level information is kept private and sold to automakers. Despite the closely guarded report, The Wall Street Journal reported that Toyota had 107 problems per 100 vehicles, the best score ever in the survey. Honda placed second with 113 problems, down from 133, to post the biggest improvement in this year's study. GM averaged 130 problems per 100 vehicles. Nissan Motor was the only automaker to decrease in ranking, falling from third place last year to a tie for sixth place this year.

With a 58% improvement, the Chevrolet Malibu made the largest gain in vehicle quality over the past five years. The Malibu is followed by the Buick Century, Chevrolet Corvette and the Lexus GS Sedan, each improving 49%.

While it is unusual for an all-new model to take the top ranking in its segment, the Ford Thunderbird did just that with the top ranking in the competitive entry luxury segment. The top spot makes the Thunderbird Ford's highest ranking model in 2002.

The study is based on responses from nearly 65,000 new vehicle buyers and lessees after the first 90 days of ownership and targets 135 potential problems.

Top ranking car models
Compact Car--Toyota Corolla and Toyota Prius (tie)
Entry midsize car--Chevrolet Malibu
Premium midsize car--Buick Century
Full-size car--Buick LeSabre
Entry luxury car--Ford Thunderbird
Mid luxury car--Lexus GS 300/GS 430
Premium luxury car--Lexus LS 430
Sporty car--Mazda Miata
Premium sports car--Chevrolet Corvette

Top ranking light-truck models
Compact pickup--Toyota Tacoma
Full-size pickup--Toyota Tundra
Entry SUV--Toyota RAV4
Midsize SUV--Toyota Highlander
Full-size SUV--Ford Expedition
Luxury SUV--Lexus LX 470
Compact van--Toyota Sienna
Source: J.D. Power and Associates

Major Automakers 2002 Quality Rank
1. Toyota
2. Honda
3. GM
4. DaimlerChrysler
5. Ford
6. (tie) Nissan
6. (tie) Volkswagen
Source: WSJ Research