DETROIT – General Motors took top honors in this year’s J.D. Power & Associates’ Initial Quality Study, leapfrogging every other auto maker and notching its best performance ever in the closely followed U.S. survey of the first 90 days of vehicle ownership.

While the study reports quality results by brand, Dave Sargent, J.D. Power’s vice president-global automotive, says GM was the No.1 auto maker overall in the 2013 IQS, which polled 83,000 owners of ’13-model vehicles.

GM’s volume brand, Chevrolet, entered the top five for the first time, driven by the high quality of its large trucks.

“Big trucks are really carrying the day (for Chevy),” Sargent tells the Automotive Press Assn. here, adding GM also had a relatively problem-free launch of its new ’13 Malibu sedan.

Owners of ’13 Chevrolets reported 97 problems per 100 vehicles, a lower number than Toyota (102 pp 100) and Honda (103 pp 100).

Sargent says the two Japanese auto makers were “not as strong” this year as in the past, with other manufacturers making bigger quality gains.

Also critical in GM’s rise was its GMC light-truck brand, which finished second to Porsche in the ranking with 90 pp 100 vehicles.

“GMC has never been better than ninth,” Sargent says.

GM’s Buick brand, with 109 pp 100, was above the industry average of 113.

Cadillac notched 108 pp 100, but that represents a decline from last year.

“Cadillac had a few challenges,” the J.D. Power executive says, citing issues with the launches of the ATS, XTS, redesigned SRX models and new Cue infotainment system.

Speaking during a conference call today, Alicia Boler-Davis, GM vice president-global quality and U.S. customer experience, attributes the auto maker’s performance to a decision last year to combine its quality and customer-service activities into a single business unit and make the consumer the starting point for problem-solving in both areas.

The majority of reported problems in this year’s IQS focused on audio, entertainment and navigation systems in vehicles. Some 22% of problems were in this area compared with 16% for interior- and exterior-design issues. Sargent says no manufacturer is performing better than another when it comes to infotainment.

MyFord Touch continues to be the downfall for Ford in IQS, he says. The brand remained in 27th place this year, with 131 pp 100.

While Sargent believes Ford has made great strides improving MyFord Touch, it has added the technology to ever-more vehicles, increasing the chances for complaints.

“It’s technically accurate to say right now MyFord Touch doesn’t help the Ford scores,” he says.

While GMC Sierra took segment honors with the fewest reported problems of any Large Light Duty Pickup, Sargent notes the Ford F-150 also was a solid performer but “ran into a year where GM built some outstanding vehicles.”

Sargent notes GM’s relative lack of advanced technology on its aging trucks (both the Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado are fully redesigned for ’14) helped its score.

Delving into problem specifics, Sargent says survey respondents had many issues with glitches in voice-recognition technology.

“The hatred of poor-performing voice recognition is compelling,” he says.

Also topping owners' lists of gripes were problems pairing cellphones to vehicles via Bluetooth and interior materials that scuff easily or show dirt. Excessive wind noise continues to be an issue, as well, although it has fallen down the list of complaints.

Sargent can’t explain the discrepancy in scores between Toyota’s top-performing Lexus and Toyota brands and its Scion marque, which fell to dead last in this year’s IQS with 161 pp 100 vehicles. Nor is he able to say why the Toyota Camry line at Subaru’s Lafayette, IN, plant outscored Subaru’s own line at the plant.

J.D. Power redesigned its IQS for 2013, with more questions on in-vehicle technologies and the survey conducted online in order to enable follow-up questions to be asked.

Sargent says overall quality slipped this year industry-wide. The 2012 industry average score recalculated according to 2013 methodology slipped from 102 to 108 pp 100, but remained better than this year’s 113.

with James M. Amend

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com