Gm, Ford: Products on the Comeback

by : Anthony Fontanelle

The August issue of the Consumer Reports magazine contains a delightful surprise for the General Motor Corp. and the Ford Motor Co...

Before, Consumer Reports is often seen as uniformly critical of vehicles from domestic automakers. Now that Consumer Reports is singing a new tune, would auto shoppers be dramatically influenced? Would they believe that GM and Ford's latest offerings are really competitive with what the Japanese offer?

According to a Consumer Reports staffer, recent introductions from Ford and GM show that they are capable of making genuinely competitive vehicles. In addition, J.D. Power surveys show that auto shoppers appreciate the improvements in recent GM and Ford products, sometimes even more than Consumer Reports' car testers do. With sales in decline, successes like these will be mainly essential to the automakers.

By any measure, Consumer Reports is the sole most influential magazine when it comes to the vehicles Americans actually purchase. Much of the success of the Toyota Motor Corp. and the Honda Motor Co. in the United States can be traced to their rise in Consumer Reports' rankings beginning in the 1970s. To stress, a 2006 Forester research study showed that auto shoppers trust Consumer Reports more than any other source of auto information.

Consumer Reports' testers have simply not liked domestic cars much in recent memory. So it is all the more astonishing to read this about GM's Saturn Outlook SUV: "With its roomy interior, the Outlook is an excellent alternative to a large, truck-based SUV for buyers who don't need the extra towing capacity or off-road ability of a truck. We also liked the Outlook's agile handling, comfortable ride, and third-row seat that's hospitable for three adults." In the clear jargon of Consumer Reports, that is high commendation.

Jake Fisher, one of the car testers at Consumer Reports' Auto Test Center, praises the Detroit-based automaker for not just following what the Japanese car companies have done - something domestic automakers have tended to do in the past.

With the Outlook and its cousins, the GMC Acadia and the Buick Enclave, the automaker has found a new niche - large SUVs that ride and handle like cars while getting decent fuel economy without compromising space.

Ford has recently had big praises with its Fusion sedan and its kin, the Mercury Milan and the Lincoln MKZ, said Fisher. The Fusion earned the magazine's highest possible recommendation, signified by a check mark with a circle. Perhaps more surprisingly, the V6 version of the Fusion actually has better "predicted reliability," according to the Consumer Reports, than V6 versions of the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord.

Not everything these companies rolled out has been so successful. Consumer Reports is not fond of the new Ford Edge. "The handling is lackluster, fit and finish is subpar, and the transmission is not as smooth or responsive as it should be," the magazine said in its review. Consumer Reports ranks the Edge at the bottom of the pack among midsized SUVs in its August issue, even though it managed a "very good" rating.

Newer Ford and GM products have been ranking higher in owner satisfaction surveys, said Joe Ivers, the executive director for research with J.D. Power, as well as in surveys rating vehicle quality. Placing second and third after the Edge in the rankings were the Saturn Outlook and the GMC Acadia SUVs. "The thing that both these vehicles excel in the most is exterior styling," Ivers said.

Saturn's renaissance is apparently helping the ailing Detroit automaker to recover. It could have been the improved , or the styling that bolsters warm acceptance. Or may be the magic is on the entirety of the overhaul efforts.