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Detroit reliability

Living in an area so dependent on “The Big Three” automotive manufacturing companies can make one feel like a cat in a roomful of rocking chairs.

You know the pain is coming.

As my father always says: If you don't work for one of the car companies directly, your business supports them or their employees. If they go, you go with them.

With that in mind, I met Tuesday with the good folks from Consumer Reports, who braved our nippy weather, rush-hour traffic and automotive press to announce their latest reliability findings.

Good news: Ford Motor Co. is doing better.

Bad news: General Motors Corp. and Chrysler are still struggling.

While that is not what Metro Detroit necessarily wants to hear, it is the truth based on some tough criteria, said Consumer Reports Automotive Editor Rik Paul.

“People are torn whether to help their fellow citizens” in the automotive world, Paul said. “GM and Chrysler's financial problems have put them off.”

However, there is a bright side, especially when it comes to Ford. “The fact that they're competitive with the Japanese is news in and of itself,” Paul noted.

Here's the basics. Ford is the only Detroit automaker with world-class reliability, the magazine found. About 90 percent of its products have average or better scores in this key area, according to its 2009 survey.

Other than the Toyota Prius, the Ford Fusion and Milan ranks higher than any other family sedan. Both Ford products beat the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

Of GM vehicles, the best scores went to the Chevy Malibu, Traverse and Silverado. But only 20 of its overall 48 models had average reliability scores.

“GM is on the right path, but their overall brand reliability is being dragged down by some of their older models,” Paul said. “GM overall has to achieve a better, consistent product. They're getting there.”

As for Chrysler, more than one-third of its products rank much worse than average. Last year, Consumer Reports didn't recommend any of its products because of quality issues. One highlight: the redesigned Dodge Ram 1500 pickup made this year's list.

“Chrysler has some work to do,” Paul said, but the magazine editors note that the company has hired a “quality czar” to get it in the right place.

I'll skip the rankings for foreign vehicles – I'm snotty that way. (Full disclosure: Two members of my family work for GM, and I'd like to keep it that way.)

All of the details, ratings and related stories will appear on the magazine's Web site and in its December issue, which goes on sale next week.

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