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Japanese Automakers Still Top U.S. Rivals in Quality Survey

from Bloomberg News

DETROIT (March 15) -- Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and other Japanese carmakers still outrank their U.S. rivals in performance and reliability, according to Consumer Reports magazine.

Japanese vehicles, including the latest versions of Toyota's Tundra pickup and Honda's Civic EX small sedan, topped seven out of 10 vehicle categories, the magazine said. General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler unit of DaimlerChrysler AG failed to rank first in any of the categories.

Japanese carmakers are expanding their share of the world's biggest auto market despite price cuts by U.S. rivals. The latest quality report will bolster their efforts to expand sales even as overall demand slows.

Eight of the industry's 10 most reliable makes were Japanese, the survey said. Germany's Bayerische Motoren Werke AG ranked the ninth-most reliable, followed by Ford's Mercury brand. Ford light trucks improved the most over the last 20 years and now ranks second only to those made by Toyota, the report said.

Cars and minivans made by General Motors, Ford and Chrysler Corp. are twice as likely to develop problems as Japanese vehicles, according to the magazine.

Toyota, the No. 4 automaker in the U.S., sold almost 124,000 vehicles last month, up 1 percent from the year-earlier month. Honda, Toyota's next biggest rival in the U.S., saw sales rise 9.4 percent to more than 91,000 autos for the month. General Motors' overall sales fell 9.4 percent while Ford sales dropped 11 percent.

All major Japanese automakers' shares rose in Tokyo trading, led by Honda, which gained 4.8 percent to 4,780 yen. Toyota shares closed at 4,150 yen, up 3.8 percent, while rival Japanese automaker Nissan Motor Co. rose 3.4 percent to 800 yen.

New Civic, Lexus Get High Marks in Crash Tests


DETROIT (March 20) - New versions of Honda Motor Co. Ltd.'s Civic compact car and Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus LS 430 luxury sedan earned the highest marks in crash tests done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The offset tests estimate how well occupants would survive in a vehicle if the driver's side of the front end slammed into a barrier at 40 miles (64 km) per hour. The tests, similar to ones done in Europe for crashworthiness, have become widely accepted among automakers; none of the seven new models tested earned a poor rating for crash protection.

The IIHS said the 2001 Civic earned good ratings on all measures of crash performance, with an acceptable rating for bumper performance. The only other compact car tested, Ford Motor Co.'s 2001 Focus, earned good or acceptable scores in all crash measures and a marginal rating for bumper performance.

The 2001 Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Sebring midsize sedans from DaimlerChrysler AG earned marginal ratings for right leg/foot injury and bumper performance, with good or acceptable scores otherwise. The 2001 models of the Chrysler LHS and 300M large sedans earned similar scores, with a marginal rating for the left leg/foot injury and bumpers.

The Lexus LS 430 and two Mercedes-Benz sedans earned good ratings for all crash protection areas. The Mercedes E Class and C Class were given poor ratings for bumper performance, while the Lexus earned a marginal rating.

The institute, an insurance industry group that studies and lobbies automakers on safety issues, noted that all new models improved on the performance of their predecessors. The biggest improvement was in the Chrysler midsize sedans; the models they replace earned an overall poor rating for crashworthiness.

The institute also said that during the first crash test of the Lexus, the car's air bags and seat belt tension system went off slightly late, allowing a crash dummy's head to touch the steering wheel through the air bag. The car would have still earned an acceptable rating for head injury, but Toyota made changes to the vehicle's wiring and asked for
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