Consumer Reports just released their list of the top vehicles for 2011, and once again foreign-based automakers dominate the list.  Now, this is not a foreign bashing article, nor is it a “Buy USA or die” article. But, in all my years of being interested in cars, working around cars and thinking about cars, never has Consumer Reports influenced a vehicle buying decision.  Can’t say that anyone that I’ve known has been influenced by them either.

So, who uses CR to make a vehicle purchase?  Certainly not someone who loves cars and sees a car purchase as more than just a process to buy something to get from point A to B.  Car lovers ignore Consumer Reports. Mainly because their  annual list is (and has been) so heavily weighted towards foreign (i.e. Japanese) nameplates for nearly 20 years.

Yes, the American car makers put some real crap into the marketplace for WAY too long and just expected us as consumers to accept what they were offering.  They also grossly underestimated how aggressive the foreign car makers would be and the fast wave of consumer acceptance of their products.  That apathy allowed the foreign companies to gain and establish a foothold in the American market and build significant brand loyalty.

But, if you look at the quality rankings and compare the rankings now to the rankings 15 to 20 years ago, you will see a remarkable difference.  The spread between foreign and domestic is very small compared to the spread 15 or 20 years ago.  All of the manufacturers (mostly domestic) who used to lag far behind their overseas competitors are now within clear striking distance, and in some cases have surpassed them.

So, why no love from Consumer Reports for domestic automakers?  Not sure, but it clearly reaches back to the dark days of vehicle manufacturing (mid-to-late 80′s) when the Japanese car makers really began to separate themselves from the U.S. automakers.  CR was one of the first (and leading) pubs to embrace the product offerings from foreign OEMs.

It’s a new day CR! Release your bias from the past and look at domestic vehicle production with a fresh eye and new attitude. When you read the Consumer Reports reviews of different vehicles, you see some phrases repeated again and again.  “Poor fit and finish” is one of my favorites.  What does that mean exactly? Unless there is an obvious gap between fender panels, I think this is a catch all phrase that is used almost exclusively for domestic nameplates and almost never used for foreign ones.

Another squishy analysis from CR has to do with seat comfort.  So, we’re to believe that their writer’s or evaluator’s butt is the best indicator of seat comfort?  Nah, I’m not buying that.  Seat comfort is a very personal thing; one person who says a seat is too thin or doesn’t offer enough lumbar support (whatever that means) is perfectly fine for another person.  So, why even put that into the article of comparison?  Because it gives the impression (to the uninformed reader) that somehow the folks at Consumer Reports know what they’re talking about.  They don’t really. My belief is that their ratings and ranking for autos is highly subjective and has a severe bias towards foreign nameplates.

Think I’m smoking something?  I believe that many others agree with me and CR has felt the heat from their bias.  Hence, their list of “Top American Vehicles” for any given year.  Really? So now they’ve decided to place U.S. automakers in their own “ghetto” by having a separate list.  Just more proof that Consumer Reports has a bias and doesn’t evaluate all vehicle brands equally.

The informed car enthusiast and objective vehicle shopper more than likely don’t utilize Consumer Reports as a main evaluation tool.  They’re independent thinkers and make their decisions based on their own criteria, not by what a publication like Consumer Reports says.

My personal belief is that Consumer Reports is not relevant in the discussion about vehicle quality or reliability or purchase potential.  There are many other research resources available with better (and unbiased) information.  Soon, many others will discover the same thing…