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Reliable on the road

By Patrice Fletcher, NBC News producer

Tonight on Nightly News CNBC's Phil Lebeau reveals the Consumer Reports 2008 forecast on car reliability. The annual survey of nearly one million American car buyers found that Asian cars - mostly Japanese - still rank highest in dependability. Phil will highlight the winners, the laggards, and how long it takes to change public perceptions. (Click here to see Consumer Report's Top 10 cars for 2008).

I've been working with Phil on this story, and I thought it worth a closer look at today's report to see which findings buck the survey trends. Just because you drive a Japanese car doesn't mean it's reliable. Korean cars are performing better and better. And many American models have begun to score average or better.

Two Toyota models and a Lexus fell below average and are no longer recommended by the survey. Some Nissan, Mazda and Suzuki models have on-going problems. They, too, are rated as unreliable.

On the bright side, the survey predicts that most models made by Hyundai and Kia - the two South Korean automobile companies - will perform average or better in reliability, although some still have glitches.

"If you look at Hyundai," Consumer Reports's David Champion tells NBC News, "back in the early '90s they were almost the joke of the industry, their reliability was very poor, they could not sell their cars. But for the last five to 10 years, they have made significant improvements in their cars ...comparable to the Japanese manufacturers." This year, two of CR's Top 10 Picks are Hyundais.

Ford leads the resurgence in American car reliability, with nearly all the models tested scoring average or better for reliability. But Chrysler and GM models ranked 67 percent and 49 percent, respectively.

As for European cars, some brands, such as Mercedes, continue to have problems with electronics. Champion says, despite small gains, "they are always at the cutting edge of technology, but they do not seem to get that technology right the first time."