"The increases in last quarter's American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) indicate a stronger focus on improving customer service by both the auto and personal computer sectors," says Jack West, ASQ spokesperson and author of the report. Japanese automakers like Toyota and Honda continue to exploit their competitive advantage in engineering and innovation, but General Motors and Ford quality-improvement processes are narrowing the gap.

The auto industry's score of 87 is the highest since the second quarter of 1995. But only domestic luxury brands Buick and Cadillac rank alongside reigning quality leaders including Toyota, Honda, and BMW. Hyundai is the "most improved" in perceived quality with a long-term gain of 12.7% over the last decade.

The quality index for the maturing personal computer category jumped 3.8% thanks largely to gains by Dell Inc. While it has surpassed its rival Hewlett-Packard in perceived quality, Dell still trails Apple Computer, the quality leader, by a significant amount.

"It appears likely that Dell's rebound is based largely on restoration of its service levels which have dipped significantly over the past five years," says West. "Dell's $100 million commitment to beef up its U.S. service centers is clearly having a positive effect."

The ACSI is produced by the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, the American Society for Quality, CFI Group, and e-commerce sponsor ForeSee Results.