Has vehicle quality reached its peak?

Are the current crop of vehicles, from compact cars to the largest SUVs and trucks, the best consumers can expect from automakers? That is the question posed (and answered) in the latest Consumer Reports (CR) according to James Healey of USA Today. (Pictured is CR's 'Fun to Drive' top pick, the Subaru Impreza WRX/STi.)
[More information after the jump.]
According to the CR article, the ‘best’ is 12 problems per 100 vehicles, which is currently achieved by Japanese automakers like Toyota. Domestic vehicles are holding steady at 17 while European models are at 20 to 21 problems per 100. Because the figures have not changed for the past five years, CR and other analysts conclude that quality issues have plateaued. This does not sit well with Ford, for example, which recognizes CR’s influence among consumers.

"We've reached a difficult level to break," says Anne Stevens, Chief Operations Officer of the company’s North and South American operations. "That doesn't mean don't keep trying."

Reasons for this plateau include the increased use of electronics in modern vehicles and how much benefit (aka potential profit) a vehicle is worth versus its total cost to manufacture. According to Jim Hossack of AutoPacific, further refinement and/or improvement by the automakers "would cost the manufacturer more than it's worth. It might not be a technical issue, but a practical, economic limit."

Are today's vehicles the best automakers can make? Or is it just a short pause before the next major leap?

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