Average Quality off for Cars Sold in U.S

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DETROIT (AP) _ Japanese-made vehicles once again topped J.D. Power and Associates' annual survey of new car quality, but the average quality of all 1994 cars sold in the United States declined slightly.

Toyota's luxury Lexus division claimed the first three spots in the J.D. Power initial quality survey, which counts the number of defects reported by new car buyers during the first three months of ownership. The Lexus LS400 was No. 1 on the list released Thursday, followed by the GS300 and SC300-400 models.

Lexus cars have finished high on the J.D. Power list since they were introduced in 1990, and the LS400 has been first since 1991.

The highest-ranking American car in the 1994 survey was No. 4 Geo Prizm, a compact sedan made in California in a joint venture between Toyota and General Motors. It was followed by Acura Legend (made by Honda), Infiniti J30 (made by Nissan), Mercury Grand Marquis, Toyota Camry, Toyota Tercel, Lexus ES300 and Lincoln Town Car.

Carmakers around the world have been focusing on quality, and the 3 percent decline in quality reported by J.D. Power suggests they are getting to the point where further improvement will come slowly.

"We may be reaching the four-minute mile barrier in initial quality, but eventually many contenders will break it," said J.D. Power III, president of the marketing information firm. "Some, in fact, already have."

Lexus LS400 owners reported 32 problems per 100 cars in 1994, and four out of five reported no problems at all.

The average number of defects reported per 100 cars in the survey was 110, up from 1993's 107. Another way to say that is that the average 1994 car had 1.1 defects reported by its owner during the first three months.

Owners of light trucks reported an average of 126 problems per 100 cars _ 1. …