WESTLAKE VILLAGE, CA-With seven models topping their vehicle segments and Lexus ranking highest among nameplates, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. Inc. captures the top corporate ranking in the J.D. Power and Associates 2004 Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS).

The success of Toyota Motor Sales is further evidenced in the improvements of two of its segment-leading models. The Toyota Corolla, which consistently performs well in the highly competitive compact car segment, improves 30 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) from 2003. The Toyota MR2 Spyder also makes significant improvements, recording 20 fewer problem incidences per 100 vehicles in the sporty car segment.

The Big Three recorded improvements in their corporate performances in the study over 2003. General Motors, which improves 2 PP100, remains the only domestic manufacturer ranking above the industry average. However, Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler make headway, improving 12 and 9 PP100, respectively. The most improved domestic nameplates include Ford (improving 19 PP100), Lincoln (18), Mercury (16), Dodge (14), Cadillac (13), Plymouth (13), Chevrolet (10) and Chrysler (10).

"The domestics are putting their money where their mouths are in terms of consistent long-term quality improvement," says Joe Ivers, partner and executive director of quality/customer satisfaction at J.D. Power and Associates. "However, while the domestics continue to outpace the Europeans in long-term quality, the Japanese continue to dominate."

Segment-leading models highlighting the domestic quality improvements include the Chrysler Concorde and the Ford Ranger, each improving by more than 20% in their segment, and the redesigned GMC Sierra HD in the heavy-duty full-size pickup segment, which improves by more than 30% over its predecessor.

At the nameplate level, Lexus ranks highest for the 10th consecutive year. Lexus is followed in the rankings by Buick, Infiniti, Lincoln and Cadillac. The most improved brands over 2003 are Kia (77 PP100 improvement), Suzuki (38) and Audi (23), although all three continue to perform below the industry average.

The VDS measures problem symptoms of three-year-old vehicles, primarily in categories representing malfunctions; noise, vibration and harshness; driveability; dependability; and safety.

The 2004 VDS is based on responses from more than 48,000 original owners of 2001 model-year cars and light trucks.