By on August 27, 2011

Some things have been repeated so often that many people have come to accept them as facts. I tripped across one of these in Bob Lutz’s new book, Car Guys vs. Bean Counters (review on the way). Lutz offers “a curiosity I have observed several times at various stages of my career”: when the domestics rebadge an import, the resulting model has scored “way lower” in Consumer Reports reliability survey. This has been Exhibit A in the argument, also repeated by Lutz, that import owners under-report problems on surveys in order to “retroactively justify the wisdom of their purchase.” I’ve come across this claim about CR so many times in the past that it just had to be true. Then I checked.

The cars Lutz mentions: Eclipse / Laser, Corolla / Prizm, and Matrix / Vibe. I happen to have some Consumer Reports annual auto issues from the years in question. In the 1992 issue, the Plymouth Laser and Eagle Talon sometimes scored lower than the Mitsubishi Eclipse, and sometimes scored higher, depending on the model year and powertrain. The differences are mixed and never substantial. CR pooled the samples for the Diamond Star hatches beginning with the 1993 issue, so the scores for the triplets were absolutely identical from that point on.

Also in the 1992 issue, the Prizm scored lower than the Toyota Corolla, but just by a little, not “way lower” as Lutz states. In the 1995 and 1996 issues the Prizm actually scored higher than the Corolla, with the margin in the former year a substantial ten points.

With the Vibe and Matrix, Lutz gets his snark on. “Have you been paying attention? Test question: which of the ‘twins’ performed better in quality surveys?” Well, in the 2005 issue the Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix had virtually the same scores, with both better than average. In the 2009 issue the Matrix scored a little higher than the Vibe, but in the 2007 and 2008 issues the reverse was true. In fact, in the 2008 issue the Vibe had the highest score in the entire “wagons and hatchbacks” category. It seems that Lutz either wasn’t paying attention or saw the unfair playing field he wanted to see, didn’t check the facts either way (always a good idea), and consequently failed his own test.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!


74 Comments on “Unraveling The Mystery Of Consumer Reports’ Brand Spread...”

  • avatar
    Sammy B

    What? Lutz made a statement based on his gut and not facts? Shocked, I tell ya!

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      “Bankruptcy is totally out of the question. We have never contemplated it.” Bob Lutz

      “Being able to “think outside the box” presupposes you were able to think in it” Bob Lutz

    • 0 avatar
      Acc azda atch

      Sammy B

      If you haven’t figured out.. Lutz is like SPOCK. His GUESSES are better than other people’s FACTS.

      In every statement above.. there is no reason why 1 badge of the same vehicle.. over OR under performs the comparable vehicle.

      That right there.. is the deepest amount of MIND SCREWING ya can get.
      Like walking into a Honda plant that makes the TSX / TL / Accord. Ya gonna see the same motor. Same transmission basically the same doors and or different sheet metal. Its only when the badge goes on, and the marketing is applied.. do you “see the difference”.

      Same with the Tiguan / Q5 and or Cajun (Junior Cayenne). Its going to be made in the same factory, with the same parts.. only difference is how much the markup is going to be from VW through to AUDI and into Porsche.

      Point is…
      Lutz is damn right.. even when hes slightly off.

      • 0 avatar

        “If you haven’t figured out.. Lutz is like SPOCK. His GUESSES are better than other people’s FACTS.”

        Keep on guessing and GM will go bankrupt every 10 years.

      • 0 avatar
        Acc azda atch


        On the contrary..
        I am not a GM supporter in any way shape and or form. I hate the company.. to a level that could be described as NAZI. Absolute fundamental hatred.. for everything the company is, how its done, and the lies that it constantly perpetuates.

        With that said…
        GM’s issues are NOTHING compared to the FORMER Chrysler Corporation’s. I wholly believe they (Chrapsler) will be gone as a entity and or a company inside of 10yrs. They can not operate on their own worth for any time a shit.. since Iacocca took them over in Oct of ’78. Now that FIAT is holding their purse strings.. we wont have the Chrysler that we had in the late 80s early 90s. Putting out well done and extremely creative concepts.. yet shitty execution that Chrysler IS FAMOUS for. Now we are going to get a bunch of compact shit cars from FIAT to underpin JEEP to bring in bastards and Chrysler can trot out large obese cars built on some other large frame.

        Has been CLOSE to bankruptcy.. but never actually entered it. On top of.. the miracle.. and I do mean MIRACLE that surrounded them BOTH going into BANKRUPTCY is something nothing short of a miracle. Absolutely unheard of (to be IN and out in under 2 months, required 2/3rd of the money they got from the govt to go STRAIGHT to the lawfirms handling damage control). Now they are BOTH using that EXCUSE (and I do mean EXCUSE) against ANYONE looking for a lawsuit or a problem with their vehicles. (See GM’s issues with the current / 25yr old W-bodied Impala for more info.)

        As far as LUTZ goes..
        He did fine when he was at Chrysler Corporation during the 90s. He was even fine before they hit the skids with the germans / MB. Managed to bail out of their with his “parachute”./ He is intelligent. He is extremely knowledgeable about business, in both manufacturing and or the retail side of the manufacturing business.

        HE IS one of the FEW people who could actually RUN a car company PROPERLY. WHY.. cause He has BEEN at every auto company. BMW / Ford / Vauxhall = GM / Chrysler.

        You need to understand.. the difference between HIM and GM. He is not a built-in FEATURE of GM or of ANY INDIVIDUAL auto company.

        And for that when he isnt a loud mouth = being LUTZ he is unbias.

        Take him for what he is.

        Misunderstanding him.. is equal to thinking Iacocca is just a joke. You miss how important he is and or was.

      • 0 avatar

        Like walking into a Honda plant that makes the TSX / TL / Accord.

        Is that the one in Marysville, Japan?

      • 0 avatar

        There is one excellent reason why two mechanically identical vehicles with different badges would perform differently.

        Driver demographics overwhelm any other factor in driver death rates from car to car, and could easily explain the sort of modest differences Michael cites in the article.

      • 0 avatar

        Really? I can’t think of anybody LESS Spock-like than Lutz.

        But this:

        “In every statement above.. there is no reason why 1 badge of the same vehicle.. over OR under performs the comparable vehicle.”

        There will always be random variation, and that’s probably enough by itself, but you’re also going to have some inevitable demographic and cultural variations between buyers of domestic and foreign brands as well, which could easily lead to differences in reliability. I’d always assumed this was the real explanation, but maybe there’s nothing to have to explain to begin with!

        I guess Lutz is not one to let the truth spoil a perfectly good misunderstanding.

  • avatar

    If Lutz only ever said things that where true or made sense, then he would just be another company big wig, and no one would know who he is (or buy his book). The truth is, his big mouth is a large part of why he is who he is.

  • avatar

    This “fact” goes well beyond Lutz. It’s a curiosity I’ve observed several times at various stages of my career.

    The thing I don’t get: there’s plenty of true stuff that’s very much in need of saying, but not being said. So why make things up, or assume that if your read something in a few different places (which might all trace to a single erroneous source) then it must be true?

    Okay, I’m not totally clueless: less work and more fun.

    • 0 avatar

      Maybe Mr Lutz and all the other apologists are just trying to justify (or rectify) the failure of GM and Chrysler by blaming bias on the part of the automotive press.

      There simply are too many people over several decades that joined the mass exodus away from the domestic auto manufacturers in favor of the foreign brand imports and transplants built in America.

      People do not buy what they don’t like, if they can help it. People buy what they like! And they did not like their ownership experiences with the products from the domestic car makers.

      After many decades of owning American brand cars and trucks, I finally was talked into buying our very first foreign-built CUV. It was an excellent experience!

      So now, I too, have joined that mass exodus when I bought my very first foreign-brand full-size half-ton pickup truck with a magnificent all-aluminum, DOHC, 32-valve, 5.7L V8. If the domestic manufacturers had built such a magnificent truck, I would still be driving a domestic brand.

      Mr Lutz can publish what he wants. It isn’t going to change a thing. Sometimes people avoid buying a rebadged foreign brand because the mere link to a domestic name brand may evoke convulsions from past experiences. Does anyone remember NUMMI? Who was left holding the bag? So why would I want to buy a rebadged Tundra with the GM or GMC moniker on it?

      • 0 avatar

        I think you are right that much of the perception of differences between domestic & foreign arises from ownership experience and not necessarily cold, hard data. But I wonder–how much of it is due to non-car factors, such as the dealership (if you use one)? I have heard nothing but horror stories about every Ford service dept in my area, and that certainly affects my perception of their quality, even though it has little to do with the cars themselves.

      • 0 avatar

        Speaking only from the experiences of my brothers who have been in the new-car retail business for more than 30 years, the bottom line is “you can’t please all of the people all of the time!”

        It doesn’t matter how hard you try to please them, in many cases buyers will bring up an issue, real or imagined, that brings them back to the dealership.

        Sometimes it is a genuine defect but other times it is buyer’s remorse, or “making the dealer pay for ripping off the customer” retribution, or whatever makes the customer feel good to get back at the dealer for whatever reason.

        As a retailer you sweat it for the first 30 days after the sale and you take all precautions upon receipt of that new vehicle during prep and evaluation, to include the vehicle being test-driven by a knowledgeable individual.

        Ironically, ladies tend to be more critical when evaluating a new arrival so it is wise to have a well-trained, knowledgeable lady test pilot in house.

        Where men are easily overwhelmed and disarmed by bling, toys and gadgets, women “feel” their way through a test drive paying little mind to the clutter that makes up the inside of the vehicle. NVH – noise, vibration and harshness; those affect ladies.

        The ultimate goal, after all, is to sell that vehicle and have the buyer as a happy camper. Of note here is that Buick vehicles seem to do extremely well with very, very few returns for warranty work. GMC…… not so much.

        Ford vehicles and Toyota vehicles seem to pretty well live up to their JDP-rated PP100V numbers. It wasn’t always that way. But it is now. American-made parts in Japanese cars? You betcha!

        OTOH, there’s Hyundai which seems also to do very well, but not quite as well as Buicks. Yes, there were some alleged steering problems with the Sonata sedans at highway cruising speeds in excess of 60mph, but there were also several causes identified. Some which could be easily corrected and some which required more extensive action.

        By and large it is safe to say that MOST dealers will bend over backwards to satisfy their customers. No doubt about that! But there also have been instances where the M&R section of a dealership has been turned into a loss-center because of problems that overwhelmed them, both real and imagined.

        Such was the case with all the Toyota recalls for floor mats, lopping off a part of the gas pedal, imagined runaway Prius cars, imagined Camry sedans that supposedly acted like they were possessed and had a mind of their own, etc.

        Truly much ado about nuttin’. Mass hysteria induced by Ray Lahood and the DOT in order to sell more guv’ment motors cars. “We’re not through with Toyota yet….” Famous last words that came back to haunt him… because he was through before he started. He just didn’t know it.

        Invariably, taking the customer out on a test drive to have them illustrate the problem with their car in actual use always results in lost time and money for the dealership, because it never happened on the test drive, wouldn’t you know.

        So, whatever perceptions are out there, anyone of them could fit the bill as to why people behave the way they do. The buyers’ motto should always be “Caveat Emptor” because 50% of the transaction is the buyer’s willingness to make the purchase. That’s what test-drives are for. Make use of them.

        But it is easier to blame the dealer for many of the ills of the automotive world, which, of course, is misplaced, since the dealer doesn’t make the vehicle. They just sell them.

      • 0 avatar
        Acc azda atch


        Who doesnt remember Nummi. I remember the things they “accomplished” together.. as well as the firestorm of lawsuits it generated through California.

        Its another example of companies working together in the automotive industry can not build cars together. Bound for failure.

        I’m still waiting for something important to come out of Renault/ Nissan.

      • 0 avatar

        Acc azda, initially I was all for that joint venture, hoping that the result would be better small cars for those who needed them. Some of us owned a Cavalier and a Chevette and experienced planned obsolescence first hand. Bad is bad, no matter what you call it.

        I’m all for choice and the more the merrier, so I was under the mistaken perception that former GM small car buyers like myself would flock to these rebadged togetherness products and bolster GM sales. I owned a lot of GM vehicles over the years, and I can identify bad all by myself.

        My brothers were cautiously optimistic, but all that happy anticipation never reached its climax because people never flocked to the Prizm, et al, in the numbers that could be considered success. People chose the Toyota brands over the GM version of the same vehicle, each for their own reasons.

        You know, there were a lot of everyday folks who could see that the US auto industry was in a coma and they bought something they believed was going to be around for awhile. Then, when GM declared itself dead, their worst fears were confirmed.

        So NUMMI was a noble venture, but in retrospect, there were no buyers who were believers. And in the end, Toyota was left holding the bag.

        To lose face or be publicly humiliated is the worst thing that can happen to an honorable Asian person. And Toyota, as an entity, was publicly humiliated by GM. Toyota continues to be humiliated by the UAW with their claims for compensation for UAW members formerly employed at NUMMI.

        The mystery of the CR brand spread reveals problems with the potential customer base, not with the publication. People were not buying rebadged Toyotas even without the recommendation of CR.

  • avatar

    Good points, all. Michael, this article is why I enjoy reading your editorials and reviews so much. I always get the strong sense that you really are seeking to get at the truth about cars in an objective manner (while, in the process, acknowledging your own subjectivity . . . not to get all Love and Death). This is particularly demonstrated by this article’s “support,” relatively speaking, for Consumer Reports — obviously, a signficant competitor of TrueDelta and an entity that some commentators in the past have (unfairly, I think) accused you of harboring a self-interested bias against.

  • avatar

    Well of the three no shock on the Matrix/Vibe.

    Also very interesting – the Matrix was built in Canada, the Vibe was built at NUMMI in California by horrible UAW workers.

    The Matrix could not be built at NUMMI because it was done in left and right hand drive configurations, NUMMI wan’t tooled that way.

    I always thought the Vibe, although certainly branded wrong as a Pontiac, was a well thought out utilitarian vehicle and the better looking of the “twins.”

    I’ve actually never heard about this accusation (that badged models do worse).

    Michael – curious – could you dig just for giggles:

    Mazda B-Series pickup versus Ford Ranger
    Mazda Tribute versus Ford Escape
    Mazda Ford Explorer clone (name escapes me) versus Ford Explorer
    Saab 9-7 versus Chevrolet Trailblazer

    And one last one…the rebadged Isuzu Honda Passport versus its Isuzu clone.

    These are a few others that came to mind – but I don’t think there is any smoking gun in any of them.

    • 0 avatar

      Navajo was the Explorer clone.

    • 0 avatar

      Mazda Navajo (it was a 2-dr only version of the Explorer).

      Some triplets:
      Old Taurus v. Sable v. Continental
      Panther triplets, FCV, MGM, LTC
      500/Taurus v. Montego v. MKS
      FF v. MM v. LMKZ

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Althought the “bones” are very similar, through May 31, 2007 the Town Car was built at the Wixom Assembly Plant while the Crown Vic and Grand Marquis were built in Canada. Some “Panther Connoisseurs” believe that the Wixom cars are better put together.

      • 0 avatar

        The 1988 Continental was not a clone of the Taurus and Sable. It had a three-inch longer wheelbase as well as its own body and interior. Also, the Continental had air suspension along with four-wheel disk brakes with ABS.

    • 0 avatar

      In recent years CR combines the samples for most twins if both nameplates have been in production for the same amount of time. So no separate scores for the Tribute and Escape. No score at all for the others in the issue I have at hand, and too busy at the moment to dig up the others.

      Realize, though, that CR’s scores aren’t precise enough that any of the above differences will mean anything anyway. In the issue I do have the GMC Terrain scores much worse than the Chevy Equinox, about 30% worse than average vs. about 10% above average, and I doubt the reason is anything more than measurement error. (I suspect they aren’t pooled together because the Equinox name was carried over from the previous generation, while the Terrain name is new.)

      I wrote about odd discrepancies in CR’s results years ago, here:

      I do my best to examine CR (and cars and the industry in general) with as little bias as possible. As you note, it’s not possible for anyone to be totally objective. I’ll gladly give credit where credit is due, and point out areas they could improve when I see them. It would actually be in my best interest to NOT offer any critiques of CR, because at some point they might actually act on them.

      • 0 avatar

        Michael, do you think it’s possible that there really ARE differences in “twin” models? Remember the urban legend about cars “built on Monday morning” by hung-over UAW workers?

      • 0 avatar

        If the repairs were for rattles or fits that pertained to a part unique to one twin, then it’s possible. For example, though the Dodge Charger and Magnum were essentially the same car in different body styles, and the Chrysler 300 was also related, only the Charger had a trunk that tended to rub against the bumper fascia and remove paint. But this is the exception, not the rule.

        More common: one twin could tend to be more heavily equipped than the other. In the above example, perhaps GMCs were much more likely to be sold with a problematic optional feature. This is entirely hypothetical.

        The problem is that there are cases like the LXs in the linked review and the Mercedes SUVs in the latest results where one engine makes a big positive difference in one model and a big negative difference in another, with the engines, assembly plant, and many of the parts being the same.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      Nummi had an exceptional quality and productivity track record, even with “horrible UAW workers”>

  • avatar

    The pair of photos would have been more appropriate to the story if they’d been of the same generation; that’s a 1993-97 Corolla (left) and a 1998-2002 Prizm with optional alloy wheels (right). The last-generation Prizm body pictured was by far the most similar to that of its Corolla twin; Chevy didn’t offer factory mudguards for our ’99 5-speed, but those made for Corollas fit just right.

  • avatar

    You see this phenomena with many twins or cousins that share the same platform. Often times the less desirable car sells at a significant discount on the used market.

    For awhile you could the the 9-2X Saabaru for $2-4k less that a comparable Impreza WRX.

  • avatar
    Robert Fahey

    People who bought a Det-3 car with Japanese guts surely knew about the internal organs, and would therefore apply a pro-Japanese bias just the same — no?

  • avatar

    I was thought it was interesting the Mercury and Ford clones sometimes got different ratings (Various GM clones too)

    One wonders if the average age of buyers is a factor – perhaps old buyers are less nit-picky? It makes you wonder if Mercury (and Buick) dealers have more time to spend with customers and that translates into better impressions of the cars? We can make up all sorts of “reasons” most of which will remain unsubstantiated.

    • 0 avatar

      One wonders if the average age of buyers is a factor

      Retirees drive far less than the statistical average. Lower mileage cars should have fewer problems, so cars with large numbers of elderly buyers should, all things being equal, report fewer problems. As far as I can tell, these surveys don’t adjust for mileage.

      Also, survey accuracy declines as the size of the survey pool decreases. All of these surveys are prone to having instances when the margins of error are fairly high because of the relatively small size of at least some of the respondent pools.

      I suspect that it would be next to impossible to conduct any survey that consistently has an ideal number of respondents for every single make and model, although CR does have a substantially larger pool than does any of the others.

  • avatar

    There are good reasons for twins to rate differently: issues of trim, assembly location, choice of supplier and so forth. I recall the Grand Prix improved dramatically when it moved to Oshawa, for example.

    That said, I’m not surprised Lutz made it up—lies that sound truthy enough for the flock are common tools of demagoguery, and Lutz was nothing if not a demagogue.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Yes diffrent assembly plants for the same platform I would think could have variations in the quality of assembly. My GM B-body owners are convinced that the cars built in Arlington, TX are not as well made as the others.

    • 0 avatar

      Lutz didn’t make this up, and isn’t the first person to make such a claim. As noted in the piece, I’ve read it many time over the years. Lutz probably heard/read one or more other people say it, and assumed it was true without verifying it. Just one among many urban legends.

  • avatar

    I haven’t trusted CR since it failed a Corvette in an emergency handling test. Really?

    Lutz’s assertion is probably less significant than the truth, which is that CR’s ratings are often inaccurate and make no sense. Cars made on the same line with the same parts should be identically reliable. But as has been shown, that often isn’t the case. There is plenty of reason to distrust CR’s results given this. Whether that favors domestics or imports is another question.

    The only real reason to read CR is for the reliability ratings, and the fact of the matter is that there ARE no truly unreliable cars anymore. Some have less problems than others, but in school-kid terms, most cars are A students these days. The ones that aren’t quite as good are B students. But the F students – rusted Volares you could see through, Fiats that self-destructed, and Vegas whose engines melted – are a thing of a past. And to CR’s credit, their ratings probably had a lot to do with that. But I think they’re in danger of relegating themselves to the dustbin of history now.

    • 0 avatar

      Cars made on the same line with the same parts should be identically reliable. But as has been shown, that often isn’t the case.

      This “often” is frequently claimed by Detroit fans, but has not been substantiated.

      My observation is similar to that of Mr. Karesh’s — “twin” cars almost always produce very similar results in these surveys. Substantial differences occur on occasion, but they are the exception, not the rule.

      I’ve reviewed these surveys for wide differences, and can’t recall finding them. When accusations made by Lutz et. al. are researched for verification, the claims invariably come back as being bogus.

      It’s time for the anti-CR crowd to deliver the goods with a series of verifiable examples. These vague claims always end up being false. If anyone is crying wolf here, it’s those who are opposed to surveys, not those who are conducting them.

    • 0 avatar

      So go buy a 5 year old Touareg and let us know how it turns out for you.

      Reliability ratings aren’t the only reason to read CR. Their car reviews are decent, not entertaining, but they get down the nitty gritty of how it is to really live with a car.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      “Lutz’s assertion is probably less significant than the truth, which is that CR’s ratings are often inaccurate and make no sense. Cars made on the same line with the same parts should be identically reliable. But as has been shown, that often isn’t the case. There is plenty of reason to distrust CR’s results given this. Whether that favors domestics or imports is another question.”

      “The only real reason to read CR is for the reliability ratings, … ”

      OK, putting those two assertions in the same post has my head spinning.

  • avatar

    What should we think of people who say “I swear the Japanese-built version is better built than the American-built one”? Is there any statistical proof?

    • 0 avatar

      I think the manufacturers *might* have some evidence of this, but can’t point to any public data. For example, I remember reading years ago that Honda had gotten the quality of its US-produced Accords and/or Civics very close to that of its Japan-produced cars. But was the source credible? Was it based on hard data? Is my memory accurate?

      To give another, this has been assumed to be the reason Toyota continues to produce its high-end Lexus and Prius models in Japan, which are also the models that earn the highest quality scores.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Fahey

      This sounds like a job for …. TrueDelta!

  • avatar

    Stastitics are a bitch. If you go back through the submissions you could probably make up something where one colour was more “reliable” than another, just on the popularity or dislike of any particular shade.

    Don’t believe the hype.

    • 0 avatar

      “Statictics are a bitch”.

      Very true, I had statistics teacher many many moons ago who had a sign in front of the classroom. It said:

      “You Can Make Statistics Lie, and

      You Can Lie With Statistics”

  • avatar

    It seems quite possible that people might “under-report problems on surveys in order to ‘retroactively justify the wisdom of their purchase’.” It’s one of those cognitive biases that people tend to have–in this case, I’d think, a cognitive dissonance thing. But why would anyone believe that this only applies to people who buy cars made by foreign manufacturers?

  • avatar

    I did think there was a difference in the interior pieces between the early ’90s Corolla and Prizm. GM radios and other parts back then were cheaper-looking.

  • avatar

    We had a 1987 Mercury Tracer. This was a clone of the Mazda 323. The body had some different styling elements, but mechanically it was identical. I used to buy my parts at the Mazda dealer. This was actually the worst car we have ever owned. Although the engine and manual transmission were good, the rear disc brakes and rear suspension were horrible. I eventually got tired of replacing rear struts in pairs and started to do them singly, as it was always the right one that failed. It was retired because its very complicated carburetor stopped working properly and the various vacuum actuators became unavailable (or the dreaded “it will have to come from Japan”)so it wouldn’t pass emissions. Oh, and the rear suspension mountings on the body were rusting away. Did I mention about the front brake discs that were made “inside out” so you had to press out the wheel spindles just to change a disc? Dumbest thing I have seen on any car. It made the ’71 VW Window Van look reliable in comparison.

    • 0 avatar

      I think if a car is simply ‘based’ on a reliable import, then all bets are off. The Rover 800 was mechanically identical to Acura legend, but managed to be as reliable as classic British cars, vs the typically bulletproof Legend. Proof that the problem is with the British labor force, well, at least British Leyland’s hostile, combative work force.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s not necessarily the workforce. The electrical bits might have been different than those in the Legend, and sourced from different, less reliable suppliers.

      • 0 avatar

        Proof that the problem is with the British labor force, well, at least British Leyland’s hostile, combative work force.

        Honda makes perfectly good cars in the UK and exports them.

        The difference was in the plant and corporate management. Honda used lean production, Rover did not.

        All things being equal, lean production produces more reliable cars than does traditional mass production. It’s the management that sets up the plant as it does, not labor.

  • avatar

    It is true that many owners seem to have selective memories when it comes to how reliable their cars are/were, and use that for justification of their purchase.

    Case in point I have a friend who last year purchased an car. When I asked him why he choose it, he said because he never had a single problem with his 91 in the 160K he’s put on it. Never even considered anything other than a newer version of the same make and model.

    Because he had kept 91 in immaculate condition, he kept it, as his son was turning 16 soon. He parked it on the street and went about driving the new car. A few weeks later he went to take it for a short drive to keep the battery charged and it wouldn’t start. It cranked normally but only gave 1 short sputter, as he put it.

    I was over at his house for something else a few days later and he mentioned it wouldn’t start, so I said grab the keys. It cranked normally so I ruled out the timing belt and started at the ignition system knowing the “ignitor” was highly suspect as was an imploded dist distributor. The dist was turning and we had spark. A quick shot of fuel in the intake tract and it spit and sputtered to life for a while. So I turned to the fuel system. The fuel pump wasn’t running. Based on experience I suspected the suspect main relay. Since it was Sunday, the good parts stores were closed and we had other things to do we left it at that.

    Because he is an engineer by trade and does a lot of high precision wood working I told him it’s easy you can do it yourself. So I sent him to the internets to find a “how to” and sure enough it didn’t take long to find a number of them and many of them spelled out how the relay is known for failing “about every 80K”. Next thing you know “Oh yea” I had to have that replaced before. So I pressed him some more and what do you know it had been towed in as a no start 2 other times once for a failed ignitor shortly after the warranty ended and another time when the first distributor imploded.

    How 3 rides on the hook were forgotten I’m not sure but I certainly wouldn’t consider that as not having a lick of trouble. Of course that’s not to mention the heater core debacle he went through shortly after I met him.

    In other cases people blame the car for their own neglect. Many years ago my cousin was thinking about buying a new car and asked me for suggestions. I said if your main concern is basic reliablity it’s hard to go wrong with a Toyota. Her then boyfriend said no they are junk the engine blew up in my Celica at a little more than 40K. When pressed he admitted that other than the complementary first oil change he had never done anything other than put gas in it and drive. So thirty some-odd thousand miles w/o a oil change or even checking it.

    The other thing to consider is how well the dealer is at making the customer think they are to blame. When that make and model above was still pretty new my wife’s co-worker had it not start when she went to go home. Since it was only a few hundred miles past the warranty she had it towed to the dealer. The ignitor had failed and they convienced her that is was because she was late for her tune-up due at the warranty expiration mileage. $1200 later she had her car back with a new ignitor and a tune up. She seemed to buy it and blamed herself instead of the car.

    • 0 avatar

      Funny you should mention that. I have a fellow retired AF buddy whose wife still drives a 1987 Camry V6. When he admired my wife’s Highlander I asked him why he and his wife still drove that Camry instead of buying a new one. He said that it had been trouble-free all these years except for the AC, which he had rebuilt. No sense in junking a good thing.

      When he admired my new Tundra I asked him why he still drives his 1992 S-10 Tahoe 4.3 instead of replacing it. His answer was totally different and unexpected. He said he had so much money tied up in it to keep it running that he could not afford to replace it.

      That doesn’t sound like selective memory. It sounds more like alumni from the school of hard knocks.

      • 0 avatar

        In the case of the S10 it doesn’t sound like hear learned from the school of hard knocks because he kept throwing good money after bad until he was so far underground he couldn’t get out.

        While sometimes it is the cars fault sometimes it’s the owner’s fault. Sometimes it’s the fault of an unscrupulous mechanic who is more concerned with getting every dollar he can out of every repair order, rather than building a loyal customer base. The sad thing is that the shop that milks every dollar usually doesn’t keep as busy or make as much money as the one that’s willing to forgo the quick profit today.

      • 0 avatar

        You’re right about all that. In many cases where people keep their cars until the wheels fall off, it is that they cannot stand the thought of cutting their losses and walking away from something, a car, a house, a boat, a wife, whatever.

        I was that way for many years until my wife gave me an ultimatum that I agreed to. She said I could sell my 2006 F150 and buy that 2011 Tundra 5.7 I had been ogling IF, and ONLY IF, I got rid of all the cars, trucks and motorcycles littering our property. (They were neatly parked on the back lot)

        I had lovingly kept all those antiques running and it was a heartbreak to sell all of them, which I did, because the money I made did not make up for the sentimental value I lost when the new buyer drove them away. It was like part of the family leaving once and for all.

        I gained a new Tundra and all that open space on our property, but it still left me with an empty feeling because I felt like I had lost things I valued highly.

        Maybe my buddy can’t stand the thought of retiring his two old cars. Hey, they run, and run good.

      • 0 avatar

        Your case is a lot different than the type of cases I’m talking about. You had your F150 and the others were toys.

        Good case in point was my friend with the selective memory, we got together today. He was driving his toy, the first new car he bought when he got a real job, a 280zx. I hadn’t seen it for a while a so I said “dug out the toy for the nice day”? He responded just got it back after $3k of work. New suspension, exhaust, heater core, headliner, rust under the battery. For him it was well worth it because of the sentimental value. He never intends to sell it and has always kept it in immaculate condition.

        The cases I’m talking about is the person who puts a $1500-$2000 rebuilt trans in a beat up car that won’t be that worth that much after the repair. The car is also usually going to be due for new brakes and/or tires in the near future too…. so the next thing you know they’ve spent $3k in the last year on a car that is worth $1500 in running condition. The problem is now it isn’t running, because it needs an engine.

      • 0 avatar

        LOL! Well, you know it’s been said that you can keep any car running as long as you replace the worn-out parts in it. Often it goes hand in hand with that old saw, “It’s cheaper to keep’er.”

        That old saw works on wives, too!

  • avatar

    Excellent points made, Michael. Lutz’s book was entertaining in parts. But it seemed hastily written (dictated?) and poorly edited.
    I have toured NUMMI several times and I thought at one time they did make some right hand drive models. Corollas? Tacomas? Anyway, keep up the good work.

  • avatar

    This has been one of those “gospel” truths that apologists for the Big 3 will take to their grave. “See, it’s all a big scam. Japanese cars aren’t more reliable than domestics, it’s all a matter of perception.”

    Sorry, Ive tried both products, and for this patriotic American, the Japanese quality “myth” has been completely true.

    If the Big 3 didn’t have quality control issues, the Japanese would have never gotten off the ground. No one reads Consumer Reports, the truth simply came out anecdotally over the years, and it’s made the Big 3 at least try to take quality control more serious.

  • avatar

    Iacocca made the same claim many times over. Lutz probably heard him rant about it and it has stuck with him. Would be interesting to see CR data going back to the mid 80s and compare Iacocca’s Colt to the Mirage and the Nova to the Corolla. I believe those were the examples Iacocca referenced.

  • avatar

    Lutz reminds me of Phil Hartman’s Admiral Stockdale character.

  • avatar

    First of all, thanks to MK for once again lending credibility to the name of this website.

    Part of the ‘genius’ of Lutz’ comments was what they did NOT remark on. For example, we are all focused on whether the Prizm, Vibe were as good as the Corolla, Matrix.

    Why aren’t we asking why GM couldn’t build a competitive compact car or cute ute on their own? Lutz does not appear to have wanted to address this hard reality.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    There are a large number of people who seem to have the motto: “You have your facts, I have mine!” Such people don’t understand that facts are stubborn things and ought not be disregarded.

    Unfortunately, in many areas of the so called public debate, many participants don’t care what the actual facts are, because caring might get in the way of speaking their firmly held opinions!

  • avatar


    A couple of random thoughts:

    1) Didn’t some if not all GM-badged “Toyotas” (the last Chevy Novas, Prizm, Vibe) use GM-sourced air conditioners/HVAC units, as opposed to their being Toyota-sourced? Might this account for some of the admittedly minuscule reliability variations between GM and Toyota-badged versions of what is essentially the same vehicle?

    2) A couple of years ago, I remember reading CR’s odd finding that Nissan Versa sedans were notably less reliable than their hatchback counterparts built in the same Mexican plant. Any thoughts on the reason behind that strange discrepancy?

    • 0 avatar

      I honestly don’t think any variations between the twins are large enough to be meaningful. I vaguely recall both the GM and the Toyota variants using GM’s AC.

      Discrepancies like that with the Versa are actually quite common in their results. I discussed some in the article linked in an earlier comment. But here it is again:

      The focus of this current editorial, though, isn’t really CR’s results but one common misperception of them.

  • avatar

    Bought my 1st new car in 69, a BMW 2002. CR did a review shortly afterwards. The car flunked because it “only had 3.? inches of ground clearance. CR does a great job of evaluating appliances.

  • avatar

    I have heard this from friends before, so I studied the Matrix/Vibe ratings and found little difference between the two.


  • avatar

    The one major flaw in this article is there are no numbers given except when an American branded car beat it’s twin. Why are there no numbers given? I’m no expert in statistics but I know that margin of error becomes lower as the sample size increases. If the difference between two identical cars with different brands is outside of the margin of error then bias is likely the cause. How far outside of the margin or error were the results? Without hard numbers to back up their claims Bob Lutz’s AND Michael Karesh’s assertions are both garbage.

    Another interesting bit of information brought up was that CR merged the results of cars that are twins or triplets. I’m not a conspiracy-minded person but I have to wonder if it’s possible CR did this in part to avoid the controversy regarding the bias of consumer union members.

    Here are some observations of mine that are not backed up by numbers but are hard to ignore. Just the fact that “twin” cars such as the Corolla and Prism SOLD in vastly different numbers shows bias of consumers. Beginning in the 1980s Japanese brand cars did very well in reliability according to Consumer Reports. I don’t dispute this at all but not all Japanese car makers are equal. In Consumer Reports Mitsubishi ranks very, very low yet car buyers keep purchasing Mitsubishi cars because they think all Japanese cars are superior. Another misconception is that Japanese cars are ranked number one in consumer reports and American cars ranked worst and European cars are in the middle. According to consumer reports it’s European cars that are the most unreliable and American cars were in the middle. A friend of mine purchased a Volkswagen Toureg which is one of the most problematic vehicles according to Consumer Reports, J.D. Power and Associates and my friend, David, who warns everyone he knows not to buy a Volkswagen.

  • avatar

    This theory can be taken a step further: As a BMW and Benz owner, I am typically obsessive and likely to notice and complain about unsatisfactory details. I have always suspected this is why these brands don’t typically score so high on Consumer Reports surveys and such. A typical Camry owner, by contrast, is just happy to have an appliance that starts and rolls to its destination…ergo, few complaints. I have always been happy and impressed with the BMWs and Benzes, and willing to have necessary maintenance done on them, but my detail orientation allows me to see the most minor flaws. My expectations are higher. Bottom line: Consumer Reports is crap when it comes to cars, as we all know.

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • raph: Not likely since my favorite car has a B-pillar and therefore technically a sedan albeit a sexy sedan.
  • APaGttH: Hyundai is about the only company left that remotely makes sense. Anyone would love to have Jeep –...
  • TTCat: Can and did – 2014 Cayman. Over 40 years of cars, and never owned anything with more than 2 doors…
  • rudiger: ^This. I’ve owned one Honda, a new ’85 Accord sedan. The front brake rotors warped at 10k miles....
  • DeadWeight: p.s. – e.g. Be a lender to subprime borrowers on auto loans or better yet, consumer appliances, and...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote


  • Contributors

  • Matthew Guy, Canada
  • Ronnie Schreiber, United States
  • Bozi Tatarevic, United States
  • Chris Tonn, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States
  • Mark Baruth, United States
  • Moderators

  • Adam Tonge, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States