After several years of fierce criticism over the quality of their products, Japanese car makers have rebounded in a new report on the reliability of their vehicles.
The closely watched Initial Quality Study, released in New York on Thursday by US market research firm J.D. Power and Associates, put Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus brand back at the top of the pile for the first time in two years, up from fourth spot last year.
Toyota itself improved its placing to seventh in the 2011 survey, a leap from the 21st position one year ago.
The auto giant was suffering from bad press triggered by a series of problems with its vehicles, coverage that hurt the firm's reputation for putting quality above all other considerations.
In July of last year, for example, Toyota had to announce a global recall of 270,000 Lexus models after a fault was discovered in some of the cars' engines. That came just a few months after Toyota President Akio Toyoda was obliged to issue two public apologies in the space of a week after the company issued recall notices for 400,000 of its award-winning Prius cars.
In all, the company had to recall more than 10 million cars around the world for repairs in the space of a year.
Some of the negative coverage rubbed off on other Japanese car manufacturers, whose operations were also hit hard by the impact of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in north-east Japan.
They appear, however, to be putting most of their problems behind them.
Lexus was followed in second place in the overall rankings by Honda, up from sixth place in 2010, Acura, Mercedes-Benz and Mazda, marking an impressive rise to fifth from 18th one year earlier.
Honda won no fewer than seven of the 20 segment awards, for its Accord, Accord Crosstour, Civic, Element, Fit, Insight and Ridgeline. Lexus took first place in four sections, for the ES, GS, GX and LS models.
"Exciting models with the latest features are crucial for winning over today's demanding consumers," said David Sargent, vice president of J.D. Power and Associates' global vehicle research section. "However, automakers must not lose their focus on the importance of these models also achieving exceptional quality levels.
"Expected reliability continues to be the single-most-important reason why new-vehicle buyers choose one model over another, and no manufacturer can afford to give consumers any doubts regarding the quality of their latest products," he said.
The annual survey was conducted between February and May and was based on questionnaire responses from more than 73,000 people who purchased 2011-year new vehicles sold in the US.