Korean Automakers Lead, U.S. Gains in J.D. Power Quality Study

Korean Carmakers Top Quality Survey
  • Kia is first non-premium brand to hold top spot in 27 years
  • GM has most vehicle-category wins; U.S. brands outpace imports

South Korean automakers Kia Motors Corp. and Hyundai Motor Co. tightened their grip on the lead in U.S. new-vehicle quality with Kia ranked best in J.D. Power’s annual survey, the first time in 27 years a non-premium brand held the top spot.

General Motors Co. had seven winners in vehicle categories, the most of any company in the Initial Quality Study, released Wednesday, and the Detroit Three automakers’ domestic brands scored better on average than their import counterparts for just the second time in the survey’s 30 years. Kia’s rate of 83 problems reported per 100 vehicles in the first 90 days of ownership was one fewer than Porsche, with Hyundai third at 92.

 “Over the last 10 years, Hyundai and Kia kept moving up, up, up, up,” Renee Stephens, J.D. Power’s vice president of U.S. automotive quality, said in an interview. “Quality has just been a priority in everything they do. It’s been pervasive, it’s been a journey, they never let up and that’s what it took.”

The survey is an automotive bellwether that consumers follow closely and use to make purchase decisions. Industrywide, new-vehicle quality improved 6 percent from 2015, the biggest increase in seven years as 21 of 33 brands rated gained ground. Technology such as dashboard information systems remains a “pain point,” though automakers are making progress at addressing that, Stephens said. Korean and U.S. companies improved the most in making technology easier to use.

“Voice recognition and Bluetooth remain the top two problems, but for the first time since we’ve been highlighting it, voice recognition actually improved,” Stephens said. “That’s an indication that maybe we’re turning the corner on some of these areas.”

For a look back at the J.D. Power survey for 2015, click here.

Hyundai and Kia, its affiliate, have climbed to the top of the study’s ranks after striving for years to overcome an image in the U.S. of making cheap utilitarian vehicles. They committed themselves to radically remaking their image around better designs and greatly improved quality. In last year’s survey, Kia was second and Hyundai fourth.

Five U.S. brands were better than this year’s industry average of 105 problems per 100 vehicles, while an equal number were worse than that mark, including all of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s brands. Yet Fiat Chrysler’s Chrysler and Jeep brands were the most improved, with each lowering their number of problems by 28 from last year.

The Detroit Three’s domestic brands collectively had a score of 103, an improvement of 10 percent from last year. Import brands were at 106, trailing their U.S. competition for the first time since 2010.

Simpler Controls

Ford Motor Co.’s namesake brand and Lincoln luxury division were better than the industry average again, after plunging a few years ago because of complaints about its dashboard touch-screen controls. Last year, the company ditched its MyFordTouch controls, introduced a simpler system known as Sync3 and restored old-style knobs and buttons on the dashboard.

Ford “struggled with being one of the first in” with touch-screen controls, Stephens said. “They learned and listened to the consumer.”

Following GM in top ratings in vehicles categories were Toyota Motor Corp., Hyundai and Volkswagen AG.

Premium brands fell across the board, led by Tata Motors Ltd.’s Jaguar, which slipped to below average, with 127 problems per 100 vehicles, from third last year with 93. Nissan Motor Co.’s Infiniti luxury line also dropped out of the top 10.

Honda Motor Co.’s main brand, once a quality leader, fell below the industry average, widening to 119 problems per 100 vehicles from 111 last year. Problems with introductions of the Civic compact car, Pilot sport utility vehicle and HR-V small SUV pushed down Honda’s score, Stephens said.

J.D. Power, a unit of S&P Global Inc., collected responses from February through May from more than 80,000 purchasers and lessees of new 2016-model vehicles after 90 days of ownership. The study was released at an Automotive Press Association event in Detroit.

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