Toyota Motor Corp. (search) was the highest-ranking automaker in an annual vehicle quality survey released Tuesday, with its Lexus luxury brand winning top honors for the 10th consecutive year.

The closely watched J.D. Power and Associates (search) survey of long-term vehicle dependability is based on responses from 48,000 owners of three-year-old vehicles in the United States when questioned about scores of specific problems ranging from wind or brake noise to uneven tire wear and stalling engines.

The survey is key to the auto industry because 52 percent of new car buyers say long-term quality is one of the most important factors in their choice of brands, according to J.D. Power. It is also important to automakers because of warranty costs.

Toyota's Lexus unit topped the brand rankings with 162 problems per 100 vehicles. But Japan's largest automaker also led manufacturers overall, with 207 problems per 100 vehicles, followed closely by Honda Motor Co. Ltd. with 210 problems.

Porsche AG, with 240 problems, General Motors Corp. (GM) with 262, and BMW AG (search) with 264, rounded out the top five.

"The two (Toyota and Honda) are head and shoulders above everybody else and the factor there is that they were the first in the industry to recognize that building vehicles that last is really the most important thing," said Joe Ivers, J.D. Power's executive director of quality and customer satisfaction research.

"Building vehicles that last tends to produce a whole lot of benefits that aren't immediately obvious. One of course is that it satisfies more customers, it gets you more customers," Ivers told Reuters.

For the second straight year, GM was alone among Detroit's traditional Big Three automakers in ranking above the industry average of 269 problems per 100 vehicles. Its Buick brand placed No. 2 behind Lexus and its Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC, Saab and Saturn nameplates all scored above the industry average as well.

Ivers said Ford Motor Co. (F) and the Chrysler unit of DaimlerChrysler (DCX) also made impressive gains.

"The domestics have been touting for a couple of years now the commitments they've been making to long-term quality, and we just had not seen, until now, consistent evidence of that. Now we're really seeing that," Ivers said.

Despite improvements, Ivers, who noted that GM was neck-and-neck with Toyota in the number of highly ranked vehicles, cautioned that Detroit has an image problem stemming from some of its poorly built vehicles of the past, however.

"It takes a long time for a reputation to get healed ... The perception tends to lag the reality sometimes by as much as 10 years," Ivers told reporters on a conference call.

"There's a large cross-section of customers out there who just will not consider a domestically produced vehicle and in many cases the (past) quality is the barrier," he said.

Volkswagen AG and its Audi unit both improved over last year's results. But VW was still near the bottom of the survey and Ivers said virtually all European automakers were struggling with quality problems.

Land Rover, which Ivers described as a perennial loser, finished last among individual nameplates. "They're highly desirable vehicles but they tend to have a tough time getting customers to buy more than one," he said.

Since their 1998 linkup with Chrysler, executives at Daimler have boasted about how Mercedes-Benz would show its poor American cousin how to build more dependable and desirable vehicles.

But Chrysler and its Dodge, Jeep and now-defunct Plymouth brands all out-ranked Mercedes, which had 327 problems per 100 vehicles, up from 318 problems in last year's survey.