U.S. Cars Missing from 'Consumer Reports' Picks List

Not a single American-made car made it into the 2006 Consumer Reports "Top Picks" list. Madeleine Brand speaks with David Champion, senior director of the magazine's Auto Test Center, about what the new listing means for the U.S. car industry.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

More bad news for American carmakers. In a new survey out this week, not one American-made car made it into Consumer Reports' Top Picks List, and that's the first time that's happened. Here with us now from Consumer Reports is David Champion. He's Senior Director of the magazine's Auto Test Center, and David Champion, welcome to DAY TO DAY.

Mr. DAVID CHAMPION (Senior Director, Consumer Reports Auto Test Division): It's very nice to be here.

BRAND: Now, tell us, first of all, who made it into the Top Ten Picks list?

Mr. CHAMPION: Well, we have the top ten in various categories. The Honda Civic was top pick in sedans less than $20,000.00; the Honda Accord between 20 and 30; Acura TL between 30 and 40, and Infiniti M35 was our luxury sedan above 30,000.

BRAND: And you have a hybrid in there, and you've got the Honda Odyssey for best minivan. Toyota Prius again makes best green car. These are all Japanese cars.

Mr. CHAMPION: All our top picks this year are from Japanese nameplates, although half of them are built in the United States.

BRAND: Well, often the Toyota Camry has scored on top in reliability and in best overall performance. Did you find that again this year?

Mr. CHAMPION: The Camry was narrowly out-pointed by the Honda Accord, but there is a new Camry coming out. It will be on sale, I believe this month or next month, and we'll be testing it soon as it comes out on sale. We'll go out and buy one, bring it back to the facility and test it fully.

BRAND: And which car scores best for reliability and for safety?

Mr. CHAMPION: Looking across the surveys that we did, if you look at an eight-year-old Toyota product, it's likely to have about the same number of problems per hundred vehicles as a two-year-old Volkswagen product or a three-year-old Ford or General Motors product, and that sort of puts it into perspective. If you have a car and it's always in the shop, then it's not a lot of use to you.

BRAND: You know, I do have to ask you though, with reliability a lot of Americans switch cars out every three or four years or so, so does reliability, in that case does it matter as much as it may have years ago?

Mr. CHAMPION: Well, I think not only when you're going out to buy a car, if you're going to keep it two or three years, if it's in the shop during those two or three years, that's not really something that's going to really endear you to buying that product again. When you come to sell the car after three or four years or even if you're leasing it, your lease payment is based on your residual value. If that car is perceived as being unreliable, when it goes into the secondhand market, it will have a lower value, so you're going to pay for that poor reliability, not only in the time that you're spent taking the car back and forth to the dealers to get it fixed, but also when you come to sell the car or turn it in.

BRAND: Could you narrow it down to one car, one car that you think is the best overall value, the best reliability for the money?

Mr. CHAMPION: In terms of looking at the reliability of the 2005 model year, the highest reliable vehicle was the Toyota Prius. Only 4 percent of owners reported having any problems with the Prius, whereas, if you look at the worst reliability over 2005, that was the Infiniti QX56, of which 40 percent of the owners had at least one problem with their vehicle.

BRAND: But the Prius hasn't been around that long to have too many reliability problems, right?

Mr. CHAMPION: This is just looking at the 2005 model year. If we go back to a five-year point in time, so we're looking at five-year-old vehicles, the ones from Lexus come out on top. There is a slight range in terms of Lexus vehicles, but most of the Lexus vehicles will perform better in terms of reliability, closely followed by Toyota, their parent company, and Acura.

BRAND: David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports Auto Test Center, and Consumer Reports has just released its Top Picks list for 2006.

And David Champion, thank you very much.

Mr. CHAMPION: My pleasure.

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