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Lexus tops auto quality study as industry improves

DETROIT — Lexus makes the best-quality cars in the United States, and automakers overall are much better at eliminating problems that land vehicles in the repair shop, according to a survey of car owners.

Toyota’s luxury brand had the fewest problems per 100 vehicles in a survey of 2012 models by the research firm J.D. Power and Associates. The brand was followed by two other luxury carmakers, Jaguar and Porsche, which tied for second place. Cadillac and Honda rounded out the top five.

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Cars and trucks sold in the United States had the highest quality since J.D. Power started doing the study in 1987. Still, quality was hurt by widespread glitches in technology such as touch-screen controls and voice-recognition software, said David Sargent, the firm’s automotive vice president.

Companies have learned quality manufacturing techniques from top competitors, and they’re using higher-quality materials than in the past, he said. Quality has improved so much during the past decade that the difference between the best and worst brands is less than one problem per vehicle, according to the study.

‘‘Everybody in the industry knows that if they don’t keep improving, they’re going to fall behind,’’ said Sargent.

In the survey, J.D. Power asked 74,000 people who bought or leased 2012 models how reliable their vehicles were and whether they had problems with knobs, switches, electronics, and other items in the first 90 days of ownership.

It is the first major assessment of quality for 2012 vehicles. Consumer Reports magazine’s influential quality study comes out in October and includes other years.

In the J.D. Power survey, the entire industry cut the number of problems per 100 vehicles by five to a score of 102.

Here are some highlights from the study:

 Winners: Lexus owners reported only 73 problems per 100 vehicles. Cadillac was Detroit’s top entry at fourth, and Honda was the highest-ranking mainstream brand at fifth.

 Losers: Italy’s Fiat tied for last in quality with Mercedes’ smart brand. Both had 151 problems per 100 vehicles.

 Best models: Ford and Lexus had the top cars or trucks in three categories. Infiniti, Nissan, and Toyota each won two categories.

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