Ford Motor Co. says its quality continues to improve, evidenced by a 2009 Global Quality Research System survey, which shows the auto maker has passed Honda Motor Co. Ltd. in initial quality.

The survey, commissioned by Ford and conducted by Bloomfield Hills, MI-based RDA Group, defines initial quality by the number of things gone wrong (TGW) and overall customer satisfaction in the first three months of ownership.

Ford racked up a combined average of 1,228 TGW per 1,000 vehicles, a score statistically equivalent to Toyota Motor Corp.’s 1,150 and besting Honda’s 1,422, based on the number of respondents.

The results indicate Ford’s quality-improvement initiatives are taking hold. But given that firms such as J.D. Power and Associates and Consumer Reports issue similar studies, is there a need for the GQR survey? “There is for us,” says Bennie Fowler, Ford group vice president-global quality.

“We get more frequent information with these surveys,” he tells Ward’s. “J.D. Power comes out once a year and Consumer Reports maybe twice a year, when they do their recommended buys. These surveys provide us with a consistent voice of the customer as frequently as we get warranty information.”

In terms of overall customer satisfaction, Ford brands tied top-place finishers Toyota and Honda, with overall satisfaction for the U.S. auto maker’s domestic nameplates up two points to 79%. Top-rated models include the Mustang, Taurus, Taurus X, Ranger and Mercury Milan.

Although Ford’s quality improvements have been noted by both J.D. Power and Consumer Reports, the auto maker rarely receives as many top ratings as it does in the GQR survey. Fowler says surveys differ in the way they compile and present information.

“When you look at Consumer Reports, it’s basically showing consistent level of quality improvements overall,” he says. “They do have two elements – a reliability portion that matches what we have going on with our warranty data, and they do a lot with safety and road-test scores – so it’s a little bit different, but reliability closely matches.

“We find with J.D. Power, there are some similarities in their scenario,” Fowler says. “Directionally, if we improve in GQR we see improvement in J.D. Power also.”

Data for the recent GQR survey was collected from 75,000 questionnaires mailed to owners of vehicles registered in September and November of last year, RDA Group President Donald Pietrowski says. Of those, 17,293, or 23%, were returned to RDA Group.

The survey, which contains 360 questions, asks respondents to rate their satisfaction on a scale of one to 10, quizzing them on attributes as major as engines and transmissions and as minor as door-hinge noise and individual electrical components.

Pietrowski says the GQR survey results are in line with those conducted by J.D. Power and Consumer Reports. And although Ford commissions the survey, he stands by its results, noting the firm works with other auto makers, as well. But Ford is unique among its competitors in using a quarterly survey.

“I’m doing this internally for Ford, so they can make quality improvements,” he tells Ward’s. “If I don’t provide accurate data, they can’t make improvements. And you’ve seen (Ford’s) quality-improvement trend in every survey that’s out there.”

Fowler says while the survey results are encouraging, Ford still is battling public opinion that domestic auto makers don’t stack up to foreign makes in terms of quality.

However, “I feel the tide is changing,” he says. “We’re going to focus on making sure our products have great appeal, and we’re going to do that consistently over time. “