"Today, many domestic models can go toe-to-toe with the best imports," said Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing at Consumer Reports.
I read that and almost dropped my morning coffee. OK, not really, as my coverage of the automotive industry has several times mentioned the fact that Detroit automakers have drastically improved their vehicle quality, but still it was a relief to read that from the likes of Consumer Reports. It was especially comforting since I put my money where my mouth is and my portfolio holds shares of both Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) as well as General Motors (NYSE:GM).
Domestic automakers had a good showing in a couple of annual publications released late February by Consumer Reports, including one taking honors for Best Overall. If you're in the market for a new car, you should definitely read their "Brand Report Card" and "10 Top Picks of 2015." Here are some highlights from both, and one big snub.
10 Top Picks of 2015
It might come as a surprise to many, though not Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) fans, that Tesla's Model S took home the top honors as Consumer Reports "Best Overall" with a score of 99 out of 100.
"For all of the impressive new vehicles released in 2014, none was able to eclipse the innovation, magnificence, and sheer technological arrogance of the Tesla," according to Consumer Reports. "That's why it's our best overall pick for the second consecutive year."
The Model S's score is even more impressive when you consider that only two other segment winners cracked 90: Chevrolet's Impala took the top spot for Large Car with a score of 91 and Audi's A6 was named the best Luxury Car pick with a score of 90.
Here are the remaining winners and their Consumer Reports score:
- Compact car: Subaru Imprezza. Test score: 79
- Midsized sedan: Subaru Legacy. Test Score: 89
- Green car: Toyota Prius. Test Score: 75
- Sports sedan: Buick Regal. Test Score: 83
- Minivan: Honda Odyssey. Test Score: 84
- Small SUV: Subaru Forester. Test Score: 86
- Midsized SUV: Toyota Highlander. Test Score: 84
The biggest snub goes to the entire truck segment, which Consumer Reports says it didn't name a winner for because the 2015 Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Colorado are too new to have reliability and testing data, and the Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, and Ram 1500 were not reliable enough. It's a bit of a blow for Detroit automakers not being able to use any potential accolades in their marketing, especially because the truck segment is extremely competitive and is the U.S. auto industry's most profitable segment.
Taking a step back, let's check out what Consumer Reports had to say about overall brands.
Brand report card
Consumer Reports gave Lexus the top spot again this year, for the third consecutive year. Despite having refreshed or redesigned half of its models within the past three years -- which typically means more reliability issues -- Mazda checked in right behind Lexus. Following those two were Toyota (NYSE:TM), Audi, and Subaru.
Despite domestic automakers having improved the quality of their vehicles, Japanese brands took four of the top five spots, excluding luxury brands. General Motors' Buick finished seventh, right behind Porsche, which was the first time a U.S. automaker brand cracked the top-10 list.
Taking a look at some of the biggest losers: Mercedes-Benz dropped from 10th last year all the way to 21st. Interestingly enough, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (NYSE:FCAU) was one of the biggest losers despite the company growing its sales by 16% in 2014 and gaining more U.S. market share than any major automaker. The Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Fiat brands, all under the FCA umbrella, all scored near or at the bottom of the list because of poor reliability and low road-test scores.
Ultimately, the automotive industry in the U.S. is extremely competitive. And while Detroit automakers have increasingly become more competitive in segments where they were once left for dead, such as the midsize sedan segment, much work remains to be done if they want to steal market share from import brands. However, much progress has been made in Detroit's vehicle design and quality since the Great Recession, and that's great news for car buyers and investors alike.