Is the new name for quality going to be Ford? If the one-time industry leader from Detroit has anything to say about it, their answer would be yes. Anyone who has driven a Ford lately must notice there is a difference. This year, their vehicles seem to have a certain quality about them. The first step to reducing defects, according to Kristen Kinley, Ford’s Quality Communications Manager, is to design better cars in general. Add to that a streamlined manufacturing process, which the company has been concentrating on for the past few years, and you get quality.

The J.D. Power 2010 Initial Quality Study data is in. 82,000 owners of new vehicles were studied from February to May of this year, and scores were compiled based on the number of problems drivers reported per 100 vehicles. This year, the average auto maker’s score is 109 problems per 100 vehicles. This number is up just a tad from last year’s 108.

However, in astonishing contrast to the industry norm, Ford’s Nameplate Score is dropping. This year, Ford touts an impressive 93 problems per 100 vehicles. Amazing. This is lower than Honda, whose Nameplate Score is 95. It is even more impressive compared to Lexus, who has dominated the quality studies since their inception in 1990. This year Lexus barely beat out Ford with a Nameplate Score of 88. Not bad Ford. Keep up the good work. Maybe you will soon be synonymous with Quality.

This year, twelve Ford models placed within the top three positions in their respective categories. Three of their models topped their class. The Ford Focus tops the Compact Car segment. The Ford Mustang tops the Midsize Sporty Car class, and the Ford Taurus tops the Large Car class.

They don’t stop impressing there. A further look into the results of the study should raise your brows. Ford holds the number 5 position overall this year and they are first among the major brands. The top five list is Porsche, Acura, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, and Ford, respectively. By most accounts, Ford is keeping some pretty good company lately.

It has been a pretty impressive run for Ford lately. They kept themselves out of bankruptcy. They avoided the pitfalls of government bailout money. They turned a modest profit in 2009. They have increased sales and continue to hold Honda at bay for the number three spot in total sales.

So, what about tomorrow? It is apparent the company has a plan, and a good one at that. CEO Alan Mulally recently commented, “We expect to continue to improve our balance sheet as we deliver on our plan. Our business results make it possible to take these actions while still accelerating the investments we are making in our business.” This statement came just after Ford announced it was paying down it’s debt by $4 billion. With sales increasing, profits climbing, and a cleaner balance sheet, Ford should be able to sustain quality improvements for a while.

If current conditions stay the same, Ford is in position for many good things to come. GM, on the other hand, is still hurting with a Nameplate Score of 111, collapsing from 9th place last year to 14th this year. Toyota can’t seem to catch a break with a Nameplate Score of 117 and a tumble from 6th place last year to 21st this year. Ford has the opportunity to make tremendous strides if they keep focusing on quality, managing profitability, and streamlining productions.

Look out GM and Toyota. Ford is on the rise. Maybe we can finally believe that at Ford, quality is really job 1. Have you driven a Ford lately?

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