1985 Automobile Manufacturer Quality Ratings and
by James Bleeker
This page provides two rankings of the manufacturers of automobiles with
more significant sales in North America from model year 1979 to 1984. Each ranking employs a different method of computation.
The statistics used in the computations for rating and ranking the car makers are those found within the April 1985 issue of Consumer Reports. The two sections providing the necessary statistics are CR's Some-Used-Cars-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 makers is based on each manufacturer's infrequency of trouble-prone models. This ranking provides a measure of how well each manufacturer's models successfully avoided the bottom end of the model-quality spectrum.
The second ranking of the car makers is based on the average of the overall reliability ratings of each manufacturer's models. The second ranking provides a measure of how well a manufacturer's models performed over the entire model-quality spectrum.
Auto Manufacturer Quality by Infrequency of Trouble-Prone Models
To form a car-manufacturer quality measure from the 1985 list of Some Used Cars To Avoid, the first step is to count each manufacturer'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 by a car manufacturer varies greatly from maker to maker, it is necessary to take account of the fact that a manufacturer 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 of a manufacturer, as well as a variability in model data sufficiency, the number of a manufacturer's entries in CR's 1985 Some-Used-Cars-To-Avoid list is divided by the total number of overall reliability ratings for the manufacturer found in the reliability charts of the same issue of Consumer Reports. The overall reliability ratings are found in the Trouble-Index row of the 1985 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 car manufacturer and is achieved only when a manufacturer has no entry on the Used-Cars-To-Avoid list.
The quality ranking of the automobile manufacturers by the foregoing computations, together with their quality ratings, are given in the
first bar graph below. Only those manufacturers with at least 5 overall CR reliability ratings are included.
Auto Manufacturer Quality by the Average of Overall Reliability Ratings
To compute car-maker quality ratings and assemble a 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 manufacturer's model years and models offering an overall reliability rating. CR's 1985 overall reliability ratings are found in the Trouble-Index 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 quality ranking of the car manufacturers by this set of computations, together with their quality ratings, are given in the
second bar graph below. Only those manufacturers with at least 5 overall CR reliability ratings are included.
The Bar Graphs of Auto Manufacturer Quality in 1985
In both of the graphs that follow, the order of the car manufacturers is from best to worst.
When two or more auto manufacturers have no entry in CR's list of Used
Cars To Avoid, the companies are listed in descending order of
number of overall reliability ratings (a manufacturer with a greater
number of overall reliability ratings appears above a manufacturer with
fewer ratings), as those companies with a greater number of ratings
would have a greater opportunity for a trouble-prone model year to be found.
Summary and Analysis
In 1985, the Top 3 auto manufacturers
by infrequency of trouble-prone
models were, in descending order (best first), Toyota Motor Corporation, Mazda Motor Corporation, and Daimler-Benz
AG. Although all three of the automobile manufacturers had the highest possible quality rating by infrequency of trouble-prone models, Toyota had the more distinguished record as it had many more overall reliability ratings and consequently had a greater opportunity for a bad model to be uncovered. Mazda had 20 overall reliability ratings and Daimler-Benz had 15.
The Bottom 3 auto manufacturers
by frequency of trouble-prone models were, in ascending order (worst first), American Motors Corporation, General Motors Corporation, and Chrysler Corporation. In 1987, Chrysler Corporation absorbed American Motors Corporation, and the combined company has continued its competition with General Motors Corporation for dominance of the bottom end of the car quality spectrum. Both General Motors and what has become known as the Chrysler Group went through a bankruptcy proceeding in the late 2000s, but continue to sell vehicles in the North American market, as well as elsewhere.
In 1985, the Top 3 auto manufacturers
by overall reliability were, in descending order, Toyota Motor Corporation, Daimler-Benz AG, and Mazda Motor Corporation, and the
Bottom 3 manufacturers, in ascending order, were American Motors Corporation, General Motors Corporation, and Chrysler Corporation.
The same 3 car manufacturers are common to the Top 3 of both quality rankings:
The same 3 car manufacturers are common to the Bottom 3 of both quality rankings:
Three interesting points that the graphs show are:
1. By 1985, the legendary Daimler-Benz AG, bearer of the
automotive-engineering excellence mantel for all of the 1960s, had fallen to
the Toyota Motor Corporation.
2. In 1985, General Motors Corporation was only the
second-worst car company with significant sales in the North America and was
a distant second to American Motors Corporation.
3. In 1985, although Chrysler Corporation was the
third-worst car company with significant sales in North America, it was a
distant third to AMC and GM.
To view the graphs showing the 1985 ratings and rankings of the brands of automobiles, click
For a Google Knol that summarizes the changes in auto-brand and auto-manufacturer ranking by these quality measures from 1990 to 2010, click
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