The results of a new initial-quality survey commissioned by Ford Motor Co. shows Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands equaling the performance of Toyota and Honda vehicles, the auto maker says.

The three Ford brands garnered an 8% improvement in first-quarter “U.S. Global Quality Research System” study by Bloomfield Hills, MI-based RDA Group, which was conducted September through November 2007.

Ford says the average score of 1,284 things-gone-wrong (TGW) per 1,000 vehicles is “statistically equivalent” to the Toyota and Honda brand findings of 1,250 TGW.

Ford’s Mark Fields, president-The Americas, hopes the study results finally convince buyers to consider the auto maker’s domestic brands.

“One of our biggest challenges to overcome is the perception gap,” Fields tells Ward’s in a phone interview. “The way you overcome the perception gap is proving to folks that what we’re saying is true. We have the proof now to show customers this is not an advertising line.”

Fields says Ford will include the results in its latest advertising campaign launching tomorrow, which debuts a new slogan for the auto maker called “Drive One.”

Quality is one of the “pillars” of the campaign, Fields says. Others include technology and fuel efficiency.

Additional survey findings include segment-leading performance based on either a top TGW level or customer-satisfaction percentage for five Ford and Lincoln Mercury models: the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, Taurus and Ford Sport Trac; Mercury Milan and Lincoln Navigator.

Fields says the auto maker can’t explain the Milan’s first-place finish in the midsize-car segment over its twin, the Ford Fusion, which along with the Lincoln MKZ placed closely behind the Milan in the survey. All three are built at Ford’s Hermosillo, Mexico, facility.

“They’re both (Milan, Fusion) showing a lot of improvement, and that momentum is probably more important overall than making sure each of the individual vehicles is improving in quality,” Fields says.

While the results of RDA Group’s global quality survey tend to mimic the widely respected J.D. Power & Associates Initial Quality Study, Fields declines to predict Ford will see similar parity with Honda and Toyota when J.D. Power’s IQS findings are released in June.

“We’ve seen in the past there’s been some degree of correlation between this survey and what comes out in J.D. Power, but I’m not making any predictions,” he says.

Last year’s IQS study saw Lincoln move up to third place from the No.12 spot, while five other Ford vehicles topped their segments.

Fields says although both surveys are beneficial, the commissioned study takes “our temperature during the year and makes sure we’re continuing to head in the right direction.”

While the overall score includes just Ford’s domestic brands, Mazda and Volvo brands also were surveyed, although Fields does not provide their scores.

However, a Ford press release says 36 out of 40 Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Volvo and Mazda nameplates improved vs. 2007.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com