Four out of the top 10 brands in J.D. Power's reliability study are from Ford or General Motors, and their performance contributed to the industry's best overall score in the history of the study, which dates back to 1990.
"The fact that almost every brand improved … at a time when the industry was really hurting is impressive and frankly surprising," said David Sargent, vice president of global automotive for J.D. Power and Associates, referring to the fact that the study was of vehicles purchased in 2009.
Cadillac finished with the third-best score in the study, behind Lexus and Porsche, respectively. Lincoln and Ford ranked sixth and seventh, while Buick ranked eighth.
The study measures the number of problems per 100 for cars and trucks purchased in 2009. It is designed to measure long-term vehicle dependability.
Overall vehicle dependability averaged 132 problems per 100 vehicles — an improvement of 13 percent from the 2011 study of vehicles bought in 2008, and the lowest problem rate since the inception of the study in 1990.
Sargent said that in 2009, during height of the recession, auto sales sank to their lowest level since 1970. That put pressure on the entire automotive industry, especially General Motors and Chrysler, which went through Chapter 11 bankruptcies and received government loans.
Those difficulties may help to explain Chrysler's performance in the study, Sargent said.
Ram, Jeep, Dodge and Chrysler were ranked the lowest in the survey, with Chrysler finishing last, even though all those brands scored better than they did in last year's study.
"They improved at a slightly faster-than-average rate," Sargent said of Chrysler's brands. "But there is no getting away from the fact that they are the four lowest-ranking brands."
Doug Betts, Chrysler's vice president of quality, noted that results for all Chrysler brands improved 10 percent while the industry results improved 13 percent for the 2009 model year cars, and said Chrysler has made more improvements since then.
"These results are based on cars sold three years ago," Betts said in a statement. "Since that time, we have made significant changes to our product lineup, and everything else about our company's structure and the way it develops cars."
Meanwhile, all three of Toyota's brands — Toyota, Lexus and Scion — ranked in the top 10 of this year's reliability study.
Also, eight Toyota, Lexus and Scion nameplates either finished first or tied for first in their respective segments, up from seven nameplates in last year's study.
"This is something Toyota has demonstrated over many years — it's pretty impressive," Sargent said. "What's a little new this year is Scion, which improved significantly."