While Detroit is putting out a much better product than it was 20 years ago we find the Hondas and Toyotas to be better built and more worry free. I think the manufacturing qualities are about the same, just the engineering of the vehicle I see a difference in. We own 5 cars in the household. 3 popular Japanese sedans, 1 Japanese sports coupe and 1 American truck. Mileages range from 5K to 120K. Unfortunately the truck which is driven infrequently and has less than 50K on it is the one that sees the shop the most. I find its design in comparison to the other its age very dated and under powered. I really wish I didn't have to say that. The sedan that has over 120K has been in the shop twice since I bought it new.
Ask 100 ASQ certified quality engineers, and I bet that most will agree with you, but then they'll start pulling away from that assessment in recent years on several new Ford platforms. I have an engineer who was a managager in a famous Ford engine facility before relocating to this country, and my employer, and as he says, when you have Toyota and Honda design engineers asking to tour your facility on a regular basis, it says a lot.
But the truck platforms are different, in many aspects. If sales are strong, the internal product groups are not going to allocate significant resources to the development of newer platforms that require an overhaul of the entire manufacturing system.
Its hard to put into everyday terms, but there have been changes in the Japanese auto industry as they sought to adopt newer technologies that required higher new content than they usually allowed, which make people in the automotive quality world look a little harder. I have no doubt that they'll make good quality hybrids, or CV transmissions, but they were very uneasy internally about embracing so much change.
An interesting fact that some might not know - A few decades ago, when W. E. Deming couldn't find acceptance in his home country (America)for his quality concepts that pioneered modern manufacturing standards, he went to Japan and found a welcome reception. Many regard Deming as the father of Japanese auto innovation. But the culture of global collaboration between corporate technology owners has changed dramatically in recent years. New partnerships in computer controls are critical, and some automakers suceed better than others. The industry is evolving, and new countries enter the global market.
Its wierd, I might actually have to stop making fun of chrysler, mitsubishi and jeep one day. Not!