By Bernie Woodall
DETROIT (Reuters) - Two Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T> brands again led the annual reliability survey from Consumer Reports magazine, and General Motors Co's <GM.N> Buick was the first American brand in at least 35 years to crack the top three, the consumer magazine said on Monday.
It was the fourth straight year that Lexus and Toyota finished in the two top spots, and they have had an outstanding performance since Consumer Reports began tracking brand reliability in the early 1980s.
Buick, a "near-luxury" brand, does well in the survey because it has few models and none of the pickup trucks or truck-based SUVs that hurt the ratings of GM stablemates Chevrolet and Cadillac, said Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports.
Asian carmakers still dominate for reliability, with seven of eight brands deemed "more reliable" based in Japan or South Korea. Volkswagen AG's <VOWG_p.DE> luxury Audi brand was the only German manufacturer among the eight "more reliable" brands.
In the past decade, all brands in Consumer Reports and other third-party surveys have had improvements in reliability, especially the major U.S. automakers GM, Ford Motor Co <F.N> and Chrysler, now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles <FCHA.MI> <FCAU.N>.
Fiat Chrysler still lags far behind. Its brands took the bottom four spots in the 29-brand survey. Its most successful brand in terms of sales and reliability is its Jeep SUV lineup, which gained four slots to No. 23.
Nissan Motor Co Ltd's <7201.T> luxury brand Infiniti was most improved from last year, gaining 16 places in the survey.
Favorable results do not always mean better sales. Still, many U.S. consumers use the ratings as a key factor in purchasing decisions. The top-selling models from each for the three major U.S. brands are pickup trucks, which fare poorly in reliability studies.
Fisher said large pickup trucks' drive systems are more complex and raise consumer concerns, and "these trucks are now sold with much more power equipment and in-car electronics, so there are many more things to go wrong." Toyota's Tundra was rated the top full-size pickup truck by a large margin.
The fourth U.S. automaker, Tesla Motors Inc <TSLA.O>, the electric car maker, finished at No. 25. Consumer Reports recommended the Tesla Model S but the "Model X SUV has been plagued with malfunctions, including its complex Falcon-wing doors."
Among the hot-selling SUV market, the consumer advocacy magazine named best in category, small to large, as the Chevrolet Trax, Toyota RAV4, Toyota 4Runner and Ford Expedition.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by David Gregorio)