A down-to-earth audit of what has been and can be done to improve the quality of manufactured goods. For a refreshing change, Garvin (Harvard Business School) makes no extravagant or facile claims. Indeed, he concedes product quality is an elusive concept with at least eight identifiable aspects--durability, looks, performance, reliability, etc. Any or all of these elements may provide suppliers a competitive edge, the author notes, but trade-offs are inevitable, and tough decisions must be made. By way of example, he reviews available evidence linking quality to variables like pricing, productivity, and promotion. To a great extent, Garvin concludes, such relationships as exist depend on how quality is defined. Garvin gets down to business in a lenghty nuts-and-bolts survey of a stable US industry: room air-conditioners. After probing consumer perceptions of quality, he compares their observations with those of experts (e.g., service personnel) and putatively objective standards. To say the least, the variances are startling. Next, the author explores sources of quality, including design, vendor selection, and labor relations. Building on data derived for his case study, Garvin examines the enviable reputation for quality enjoyed by Japanese manufacturers. He attributes their success to, among other factors, effective training programs, government policies that encourage standardization, and foresighted trade associations. Again he promises no rose gardens. Managers sincerely interested in quality, he asserts, must make a systematic commitment that enlists organizational cooperation at all levels--and in coordinated fashion. An uncommonly sensible guide, mainly for corporate executives but with considerable appeal for general readers who wonder where key segments of American industry have gone wrong.