According to the J.D. Power and Associates 2003 Initial Quality Study, new and redesigned model launches often demonstrate high initial quality, which may dispel the myth that quality always suffers during new-vehicle launches. An analysis of all replacement-model launches and major vehicle redesigns since 1998 shows an average decline of only 5 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) in initial quality in the launch year, which is usually more than regained in the year after launch, says the study. "Consumers often delay purchasing a model in its first year, waiting for the manufacturer to get the so-called bugs out," said Joe Ivers, partner and executive director of quality/customer satisfaction at J.D. Power and Associates. "Yet, the quality of most new-model launches is actually very good. Some manufacturers have virtually eliminated the launch-year quality drop-off. A few have even demonstrated a pattern of launching models with better initial quality than the models they replaced." According to the study, launch-year initial quality for replacement models at Mitsubishi, has averaged 26 PP100 better than predecessor models in recent years. Newly launched/redesigned vehicles from Hyundai, Toyota and the Chrysler Group also record better initial quality on average than the models being replaced. The study also finds that for the first time since 1998, the industry has not shown year-over-year improvement in initial quality overall, and remains flat at 133 PP100. Between 1998 and 2002, the industry achieved steady improvement, averaging 6.7 percent per year. "The initial quality drive for improvement among some manufacturers has been stalled by new-model launches that were especially challenging," said Ivers. "For other manufacturers, existing models show some deterioration that offset initial quality improvements elsewhere." The study further indicated that several manufacturers have accomplished significant improvements in initial quality in 2003. Suzuki is the most improved nameplate, improving 31 percent over 2002, due largely to the successful launch of the all-new Aerio. Mercury, Kia and Jaguar also have improved by 22 percent, 21 percent and 14 percent, respectively. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., is the highest-ranking corporation in the 2003 IQS, followed by Porsche Cars North America, Inc., BMW of North America and American Honda Motor Co. Lexus is the top-ranked nameplate, according to the study. At the model level, Toyota Motor Sales vehicles rank highest in six segments, Ford Motor Company vehicles rank highest in five, General Motors Corp. in three and American Honda and DaimlerChrysler vehicles each rank highest in one segment. The study shows that the initial quality gap between Domestic, European, Japanese and Korean brands continues to narrow. While Domestics trailed their European and Japanese counterparts by at least 19 PP100 five years ago, Domestics and Europeans are now equal, and both trail the Japanese by 9 PP100. Korean manufacturers have demonstrated substantial five-year improvements in initial quality. In 1998, 116 PP100 separated Korean brands from the Europeans, which led the industry. By 2003, the quality gap between the Koreans and the industry-leading Japanese fell to 26 PP100. The study also reveals that vehicles built by German and Japanese manufacturers in their native markets record higher average initial quality overall than those built in their North American plants. According to the study, vehicles produced in Germany by BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen, and those produced in Japan by Honda, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota demonstrated overall higher initial quality than the vehicles built by their North American plants. There are exceptions, such as vehicles produced by Acura, Mazda and Subaru in North American plants, which show higher quality than other vehicles built at their assembly plants in Japan. "It is important to note that often these manufacturers build different models in North America, and that some of these designs may be more difficult to build," said Ivers. "However, standardizing quality regardless of the model, platform or plant is becoming a core requirement of a global competitor." With regard to specific models, only the Honda Accord and Civic and Toyota Camry and Corolla are produced in both North American and Japanese plants. Honda Accords built in Japan have a nearly 25 PP100 advantage over those built in North American plants, while Civics built in North America have a nearly 15 PP100 advantage over their Japanese-built counterparts. Toyota Corollas built in both Japan and North America are almost identical in initial quality. There was insufficient sample to provide the same analysis for the Camry. 2003 IQS Assembly Plant Awards For the second consecutive year, Toyota's Tahara, Japan, car plant receives the Platinum award for worldwide plant quality with a score of 63 PP100. Toyota sweeps the plant awards in the Asia Pacific region, with the Motomachi, Japan, assembly plant receiving the Silver plant award and the Tsutsumi, Japan, assembly plant receiving the Bronze. The General Motors Oshawa #1 plant in Ontario, Canada, and its new Lansing Grand River, Mich., plant receive the Gold and Silver North/South American plant awards, respectively, while Ford Motor Company's Atlanta plant receives the Bronze. In Europe, BMW's Munich, Germany, assembly plant receives the Gold award, DaimlerChrysler's Bremen, Germany, Mercedes-Benz plant receives the Silver, and Ford Motor Company's Torslanda, Sweden, Volvo plant receives the Bronze. The 2003 Initial Quality Study is based on responses from more than 52,000 purchasers and lessees of new 2003 model-year cars and trucks who were surveyed after 90 days of ownership. This industry benchmark study for new-vehicle initial quality is now in its 17th year. Headquartered in Westlake Village, Calif., J.D. Power and Associates is an ISO 9001-registered global marketing information services firm operating in key business sectors including market research, forecasting, consulting, training and customer satisfaction. The firm's quality and satisfaction measurements are based on responses from millions of consumers annually.