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The 10 Worst Automobile Brands in 1980
by James Bleeker

Content Summary

This page provides two rankings of the 10 worst brands of automobiles sold in North America from model year 1974 to 1979.   Each ranking employs a different method of computation.

The statistics used in the computations for rating and ranking the brands are those found within the April 1980 issue of Consumer Reports. The two sections providing the necessary statistics are CR's Some-Used-Car-Models-To-Avoid list and its reliability charts. Reliability is defined by the magazine as the infrequency of serious problems, which it measures annually by a subscriber survey.

The first ranking of the car brands is based on each brand's frequency of trouble-prone models. This ranking provides a measure of how unsuccessfully each brand's models avoided the bottom end of the model-quality spectrum.

The second ranking of the car brands is based on the average of the overall reliability ratings of each brand's models. The second ranking provides a measure of how well a brand's models performed over the entire model-quality spectrum.

Auto Brand Quality by Frequency of Trouble-Prone Models: The Bottom 10 of 1980

To form a brand-quality measure from the 1980 list of Some Used Car Models To Avoid, the first step is to count each brand's entries on the list. Each model year of each model is treated as a separate entry.

Next, as the number of automobile models sold under a brand name varies greatly from brand to brand, it is necessary to take account of the fact that a brand with more models has a greater opportunity to have more model years of low quality. To compensate for a possibly inflated, or deflated, frequency of trouble-prone model years within a brand, as well as a variability in model data sufficiency, the number of a brand's entries in CR's 1980 Some-Used-Car-Models-To-Avoid list is divided by the total number of overall reliability ratings for the brand found in the reliability charts of the same issue of Consumer Reports. The overall reliability ratings are found in the Overall-Record row of the 1980 reliability charts.

By the method of computation, this quality measure begins with 0 and may run to a value some greater than 1. The value of 0 is the highest quality rating attainable by a brand and is achieved only when a brand has no entry on the Some-Used-Car-Models-To-Avoid list.

The 10 worst car brands by the foregoing computations, together with their quality ratings, are given in the first bar graph below. Only those brands with at least 5 overall CR reliability ratings are included.

Auto Brand Quality by the Average of Overall Reliability Ratings: The Bottom 10 of 1980

To compute brand-quality ratings and assemble a brand-quality ranking using Consumer Reports' overall reliability ratings, a number is associated with each rating. A +1.0 is ascribed to a rating of Much Better Than Average, a +0.5 to a rating of Better Than Average, a 0 to a rating of Average, a -0.5 to a rating of Worse Than Average, and a -1.0 to a rating of Much Worse Than Average. Then an average is taken over all of the brand's model years and models offering an overall reliability rating. CR's 1980 overall reliability ratings are found in the Overall-Record row of its reliability charts.

For this measure of quality, the range is from -1.0 (the worst possible) to +1.0 (the best possible).

The 10 worst car brands by this set of computations, together with their quality ratings, are given in the second bar graph below. Only those brands with at least 5 overall CR reliability ratings are included.

The Bar Graphs of the Bottom 10 of 1980

In both of the graphs that follow, the order of the car brands is with the worst on top.

The 10 Worst Auto Brands in 1980 by Frequency of Trouble-Prone Models The 10 Worst Auto Brands in 1980 by the Average of CR's Overall Reliability Ratings

Summary and Analysis

By frequency of trouble-prone models (first graph), the 10 worst models were, in ascending order (worst first), Fiat, Volkswagen AG's Audi, American Motors Corporation's AMC, Saab, Chrysler Corporation's Chrysler, Chrysler's Dodge, Honda, Volkswagen's Volkswagen, Subaru, and General Motors Corporation's Pontiac (off-loaded in 2009). Model years 1974 to 1979 were very good for General Motors; it had only one model among the 10 worst.

Note: For the 1980 and 1985 rankings, the data may be too thin to accurately rank brands by the frequency-of-trouble-prone-models quality standard.

By overall unreliability (second graph), the 10 worst models were, in ascending order (worst first), Fiat, American Motors' AMC, Chrysler's Chrysler, Volkswagen's Audi, Chrysler's Plymouth (off-loaded in 2001), Saab, Chrysler's Dodge, GM's Pontiac (off-loaded in 2009), Ford's Ford, and Peugeot. Here, too, General Motors had only one model among the ten worst.

There are 8 brands common to both worst-10 lists; they are:

Fiat
AMC
2 Chrysler brands - Chrysler and Plymouth
Audi
Saab
Pontiac

Personal Experience and Observation

Fiat's 1980 ranking for model years 1974 to 1979 reminds me of a personal experience. In 1975, I rented a car in Belgrade, Yugoslavia for a trip to the southern and western part of the country. During the trip, several times it had to be pushed to start, and it completely expired within two blocks of the rental agency. I walked to the agency, and told the customer service fellow that the vehicle was illegally parked two blocks away. He quickly sent someone out to retrieve it. I complained about the vehicle's performance, and the fellow replied, in English, "What do you expect? It's a Yugoslav-made vehicle on a Fiat license."

Also, it should be noted that in 2000 General Motors Corporation entered into an agreement with Fiat S.p.A., under which GM acquired a stake in Fiat Auto and Fiat S.p.A. got the right to off-load Fiat Auto onto GM, lest GM pay a $2 billion penalty. What's the expression about birds of a feather?

Additional Resources

To view the 10 Best brand of 1980, click Go.

To view the graphs showing the ratings and rankings of all brands, click Go.

For a Google Knol that summarizes the changes in auto-brand and auto-manufacturer ranking by these quality measures from 1990 to 2010, click Go.

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