NEW YORK — Despite major improvement, General Motors Corp. is shackled by a perception that its products suffer from inferior quality, admits James M. Hresko, vice president of quality.

Hresko concedes many consumers consider Asian vehicles superior to domestics in durability and reliability.

“I don’t know how long it will take for us to change that perception,” he tells Ward’s. “But if (our vehicles) didn’t have high quality, we couldn’t offer the 5-year, 50,000-mile (80,500-km) powertrain warranty we now do.”

Hresko also notes GM’s warranty claims are plummeting. “We’ve reduced the claims by 40% over the last five years,” he says, adding the auto maker plans to continue that trajectory.

Hresko points to GM’s car assembly plant in Oshawa, ON, Canada plant – home to the Buick LaCrosse and Chevrolet Impala and Monte Carlo – a premier achiever in recent J.D. Power quality surveys. Seven of the top 15 plants in the most recent survey were GM facilities, he adds.

Hresko notes the recently launched T900 fullsize pickups and SUVs have carryover warranty levels that the predecessor models enjoyed after five years of production. At launch, the T900s were twice as good as the T800s at their launch, he says.

The Chevrolet Avalanche, assembled at GM’s Silao, Mexico plant, actually launched at lower warranty levels compared with its predecessor.

“We look at warranty claims weekly,” Hresko says. “We hold people accountable if the trend is not dropping fast enough.”

Bo Andersson, GM group vice president-global purchasing and supply chain, also has quality targets for suppliers.

“We have tight supplier controls,” Hresko emphasizes. When defects are found, GM follows up with corrective actions, he says.

“We send an engineer into the (supplier) plant to do an analysis of how one (defect) got away,” Hresko says. “After that, we expect not to get (defective parts) anymore.”

But GM doesn’t just cut loose those suppliers that deliver defective parts.

“Our objective is to make the supplier successful, not just throw him away,” Hresko says. “Otherwise we’d be in constant turmoil.”

However, GM has taken work away from some suppliers with recurring quality issues. “We will not hesitate to move work if quality issues persist,” he says, claiming this has happened on only a handful of occasions.

“We hire J.D. Power to do monthly quality tracking studies for us,” Hresko says. “We compare those audits with data we collect ourselves.” He says the J.D. Power audits line up fairly close to GM’s internal audits.

Despite this, GM still must deal with consumer perception issues.

“Quality is also the biggest issue with GM dealers,” Hresko says. They want GM to outline how it will change consumer perceptions that domestics lack the quality of imports.

“I’ve explained that we want to get there as fast as possible,” he says.

One positive sign is that warranty work at dealerships has declined.

Hresko says two-thirds of quality improvement is derived from the company’s supply base and engineering. “The rest of it is manufacturing,” he says.

GM has integrated much of the Toyota Motor Corp. production system it learned from the California site of their joint venture, New United Motors Mfg. Inc.

“But the GM global manufacturing system works for us,” Hresko adds. “It’s very similar to what we experience at NUMMI—a strong quality drive for continuous improvement.”