Tom Mitchell:

Chinese carmakers have narrowed the quality gap with their foreign rivals in the world’s largest auto market to the smallest in seven years, according to new research from a leading industry consultancy.

But the improvements have not been enough to arrest a dramatic drop in market share for local car companies this year, raising questions about their ability to emerge as global competitors.

The annual quality survey of China’s car market by J.D. Power, the California market research company, tracks the number of mechanical and design problems reported per 100 vehicles by more than 21,000 Chinese drivers.

The survey documented 131 problems per 100 domestic vehicles, compared with 95 per foreign vehicle. The 36-point gap was the narrowest in the study’s seven-year history. When China overtook the US as the world’s largest car market in 2008, the gap between domestic and foreign cars was 145 points.

“It’s a testament to the improvements that domestic brands have been making over recent years,” said Geoff Broderick, head of J.D. Power’s Asia-Pacific operations. “By 2018 the domestic and global brands will be on parity in terms of quality.”

Despite the steady improvement in the quality of Chinese car brands tracked by J.D. Power since 2008, local vehicle makers have been performing poorly this year.