(Story viaEdmunds AutoObserver ) Ford Motor Co.’s vehicle quality, once the Detroit Three’s best threat against the Japanese makes, took a pounding in theConsumer Reports’2011 Annual Auto Survey, due to issues with technology in its newest models. The 2012 Explorer, Focus and Fiesta scored below-average predicted reliability in their first year on the market. The trio’s low scores caused the automaker’s overall reliability ranking to freefall from tenth to twentieth place – the biggest drop for any major brand in the survey of 28 makes.

Ford’s slide was largely caused by problems with the MyFord Touch infotainment system (above), which also caused Ford to be downgraded earlier this year in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study (IQS). Problems with Ford’s PowerShift transmission used in the Fiesta and Focus also contributed to Ford’s decline, David Champion, senior director ofConsumer Reports’Automotive Test Center, told the Automotive Press Association in Detroit where the survey results were detailed.Consumer Reportsestablishes predicted reliability ratings based on a survey of 1.3 million vehicle owners who subscribe to the magazine, as well as the magazine’s own vehicle evaluations.

Ford’s Lincoln luxury-car division finished above the parent company in theConsumer Reportsreliability ranking. The freshened MKX, the Lincoln equivalent of the Ford Edge crossover, also got dinged for the MyLincoln Touch system. On the plus side, the Ford Fusion Hybrid sedan held its “outstanding” rating, and other Fusion versions were above average. Champion said Ford’s EcoBoost engine did well in the survey though the Ford Flex equipped with EcoBoost fell in the ratings due to issues other than the engine.

In response to theConsumer Reports’survey, Ford issued a statement quoting Bennie Fowler, group vice president of global quality and new model launches. “We are pleased that a number of Ford vehicles – including the Ford Fusion – earned top quality ratings this week,” he said. “As we said when J.D. Power issued similar results this past summer, we take all customer feedback seriously and will use it to continuously improve our vehicles. Continuous improvement ensures that we are providing our customers with the highest-quality vehicles.” He added that Ford’s internal surveys show “we are largely back on track after addressing these near-term quality issues. We remain absolutely committed to serving our customers with cars and trucks that have the highest quality, reliability, fuel efficiency, safety, smart design and value.”

General Motors Co. also stumbled after edging up last year. The Buick and Cadillac brands, in particular, took a step backward, Champion said. The GMC division dropped one spot. Chevrolet held steady, despite the Chevrolet Cruze, introduced just over a year ago, being rated significantly below average due to a variety issues, from electronic parts to engine problems to squeak-and-rattle issues in the body. The new Buick Regal was below par in reliability. And time did not serve other relatively recent GM models well. The Cadillac SRX went from average reliability to below average, as did the Buick LaCrosse, and an all-wheel-drive version of the Buick Enclave. All three are no longer recommended byConsumer Reports.

GM’s bright spots included the above-average Chevrolet Avalanche and the Cadillac CTS, a personal favorite with Consumer Reports’ staffers, Champion said, but had been below average in past surveys; it improved to average. The Chevrolet Volt was GM’s top performer and earned much better than average predicted reliability. However, the sample size was small and respondents had owned their Volts for only a few months.

In contrast to past years, the Chrysler Group LLC stood out as Detroit’s shining star, as Chrysler’s once-abysmal standing with Consumer Reports rose this year. On the strength of the all-new 2012 Grand Cherokee, Jeep moved up seven spots to No. 13, becoming the most-reliable domestic brand. The Chrysler and Dodge makes moved up 12 and three spots in ranking, respectively. Still, Chrysler’s new models were a mixed bag. The best results came from the freshened Chrysler 200 that replaced the Sebring – ranked well above average in reliability – the redesigned Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee, upon which the Durango is based. The freshened Chrysler Town & Country minivan, Dodge Ram pickup and Dodge Journey scored poorly. The magazine had insufficient data to rate the Chrysler 300.

Champion noted that vehicles from Detroit automakers still have reliability problems. Of the 97 domestic models and versions for which Consumer Reports had sufficient data, 62 (or 64 percent) rated average or better in new-car reliability ratings. In contrast, the Japanese brands continued to dominate the survey, taking the top nine spots. They were led by Scion although only two of its three models – xB and xD – had sufficient data to be included. Toyota’s small-car brand was followed by Lexus (which moved up seven places from last year), Acura, Mazda, Honda and Toyota.

Of the 91 Japanese models with sufficient data, 87 (or 96 percent) were rated average or better in predicted reliability; 24 Japanese models earned the highest rating. Mazda showed the biggest improvement, moving up eight spots from last year and having all models rate above average. Toyota retained its sixth overall position with every Toyota model except the all-wheel-drive Sienna minivan scoring average or better. Honda had just one below-average vehicle, the redesigned Odyssey minivan.

The increasingly popular South Korean brands, Hyundai and Kia, had mid-pack reliability rankings at No. 11 and No. 12, respectively. Hyundai had one below-par entry, the V6 Santa Fe; the nearly-identical Kia Sorento V6 also finished below average.

Overall, European vehicles’ reliability was slightly below that of domestic models. Of the 58 European models for which there was sufficient data, 37 (or 64 percent) scored average or better. Volvo ranked the highest at tenth overall, boosted by the redesigned S60, which was above average in its first year. Volkswagen held onto sixteenth place in the ranking; seven of its 11 models scored average or better. Mercedes-Benz and BMW improved, but both remained near the bottom of the rankings. The redesigned BMW X3 did well, but the redesigned BMW 5 Series was well below average. The Mercedes-Benz GLK improved, but the flagship S-Class fell to below average. Porsche dropped from being the second-best brand last year to the second-worst because Consumer Reports had sufficient data only for two models, one of which, the redesigned 2012 Cayenne SUV, had “a terrible debut year,” the magazine said. Jaguar ranked dead last with the new XF and XJ being listed the least-reliable cars in the survey.