Although overall automotive quality is improving, JD Power's annual Initial Quality Study has highlighted a trend long accepted by many new car shoppers: if you're looking for dependability, stay away from cars in their first year of production.

The industry benchmark study, which examines new-vehicle quality within the first 90 days of ownership, discovered that overall initial quality improved from 109 problems per 100 vehicles in 2010 to just 107 this year. But the initial quality of so-called launch models ? vehicles in their first year of production ? was a substantially worse with 122 problems per hundred.

JD Power also says that just seven all-new or redesigned models rank among the top three in their segments for initial quality, compared with 17 in 2010 ? and only one launch model is at the top of its class this year, versus five in 2011. So why are vehicles in their first year of production causing so much trouble? According to JD Power, it comes down to the all the new gadgets.

"Exciting models with the latest features are crucial for winning over today's demanding consumers," said David Sargent, JD Power's vice president of global research. "However, automakers must not lose their focus on the importance of these models also achieving exceptional quality levels. Successful companies will be those that can take this incredibly complex technology and make it reliable, seamless and easy for owners to operate while they are driving."

Broken down by brand, this year's study was topped by Lexus, with just 73 problems per hundred vehicles, followed by Honda at 86, Acura at 89, and Mercedes-Benz at 94. Mazda, Porsche, Toyota, Infiniti, Cadillac and GMC rounded out the top ten, each finishing above the industry average. The most improved brand was Land Rover, which jumped out of the list's bottom spot, shedding 47 problems per hundred vehicles to finish at 123.

By segment, the clear winner of this year's Initial Quality Study was Honda, which garnered seven awards for segment leaders: the Accord, Accord Crosstour, Civic, Element, Fit, Insight and Ridgeline. Lexus came in second, topping four segments with its GX SUV and ES, GS and LS sedans ? the latter of which had the fewest quality problems in the industry for the second year in a row at just 54 problems per hundred vehicles.

But despite strong showings from Honda and Lexus, neither Honda's just-released CR-Z nor Lexus's brand-new CT200h hatchback made the cut among top performers their segments ? proving that launch models can spell trouble even for the highest-rated automakers.

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Jeffrey Archer is fortunate to have turned a passion for cars into a career. His wide-ranging automotive experience includes work for automakers and dealers in addition to covering the news. When not writing, he spends his time searching for unique cars on AutoTrader.com.

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