DETROIT — Quality should be Job 1 at Ford again.
The brand's ranking fell 10 spots in Consumer Reports' annual auto reliability survey, hurt by glitchy touch screens and transmissions. Ford now ranks 20th out of 28 major brands, based on a survey of the magazine's subscribers.
The Dearborn, Mich., automaker had been closing the quality gap with Japanese brands in recent years, but it may need to take its own advice from a 1980s ad campaign, in which it claimed that "Quality is Job 1."
Japanese automakers continued to dominate the survey's top rankings. Brands from Toyota, Honda and Mazda held the top nine spots in the 2011 study, while Chrysler's Jeep was the top brand from a U.S. automaker. The Chrysler brand showed the most improvement over last year.
The findings are based on surveys taken this spring of subscribers who own or lease 1.3 million vehicles of model years from 2002 to 2011. The magazine uses the findings to predict reliability of 2012 models.
Those surveyed reported problems with the MyFordTouch and MyLincolnTouch dashboard control screens, saying they froze or were difficult to use, said David Champion, senior director of auto testing for Consumer Reports. The screens control the cabin temperature, the radio and other functions. Also, the company's new small cars, the Focus compact and the Fiesta subcompact, have new automatic transmissions that shift often and awkwardly, Champion said.
Bennie Fowler, Ford's group vice president for quality, said the company is taking the customer feedback seriously and is working to improve vehicles.
"Our internal surveys now show that we are largely back on track after addressing these near-term quality issues," he said in a statement.
For the fourth year in a row, Toyota's Scion, a brand geared toward young people, had the fewest problems, followed by Toyota's Lexus brand, Honda's Acura, Mazda, and the Honda brand overall. Lexus, a perennial top finisher, recovered from a fall last year, rising seven spots on the list.
Scion was tops because the two models covered in the survey, the xB and xD, have been built for several years, and the bugs have been worked out, Champion said. Champion also said Mazda improved because its current models have been out for several years.
At Chrysler, however, new or significantly revamped models led its resurgence. Champion said the Chrysler 200 midsize sedan, as well as the new Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango SUVs, helped the company improve its ranking.
"They seem to be totally transfixed on getting it right," Champion said of Chrysler. "It was in many ways 'do or die' for Chrysler."
While Chrysler improved, General Motors' reliability waned after edging up last year in the survey. Buick, Cadillac and GMC fell in the rankings, while Chevrolet stayed the same.