DETROIT (Reuters) - Nissan Motor Co's luxury Infiniti brand showed strong gains to rank No. 2 in a closely watched annual survey of vehicle quality released on Wednesday, while Toyota Motor Corp stood as the top mass-market brand.
The J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study showed Japanese and luxury automakers dominating the top five quality rankings by brand.
The Infiniti brand ranked 9th in the survey last year, while Honda Motor Co was ranked first among mass market brands.
The survey records the difficulties faced by new car owners in the first 90 days of ownership.
Ford Motor Co's Mercury was the top U.S. brand, ranking No. 6, and the automaker's flagship Ford brand came in at No. 8, just behind Honda.
The survey results are used heavily in auto industry marketing and are seen as influential in shaping consumer perceptions.
The quality rankings also influence resale values and are read by analysts as a proxy for warranty costs.
Kevin Martin, Nissan's vice president of total customer satisfaction, told Reuters that Infiniti's strong showing was partly due to quality improvements in Infiniti's QX 56 large sports utility vehicle, which is made in North America.
Porsche topped the overall nameplate rankings for the third consecutive year, averaging 87 problems per 100 vehicles, while Audi posted the largest improvement in ranking, moving to 10th place in 2008 from 26th place in 2007.
J.D. Power based its study on responses to its 228-question survey from 81,500 respondents who bought 2008 model cars and trucks.
The industry as a whole improved by 6 percent this year, driven by strong new vehicle launches and reduction in levels of defects, David Sargent, vice president of automotive research at J.D. Power said.
All three of Chrysler LLC's brands ranked below industry average, the J.D. Power survey showed. The automaker's Jeep brand ranked last in the survey with 167 problems per 100 vehicles.
The results come at a time when Chrysler, which was bought by Cerberus last year, is seeing its U.S. sales falter despite a heavily promoted gas-discount incentive offered to consumers.
General Motors Corp had mixed results with its Chevrolet, Cadillac, Pontiac, Buick brands scoring above industry average while its Hummer, Saab, Saturn and GMC brands ranking below industry average.
BMW's Mini brand debuted in the J.D. Power quality survey one rank from the bottom, above Jeep, with 163 problems per 100 vehicles.
Among vehicle segments, Honda took three honors for top quality for the Civic, CR-V and Fit -- more than any other automaker. Toyota's market-dominating Prius hybrid was named among the most reliable compact cars and the factory in Japan that makes it was ranked as the best in the Asian region.
Reporting by Poornima Gupta, editing by Dave Zimmerman, Carol Bishopric, Gary Hill