Kia gets top spot in J.D. Power survey, Japanese brands plummet

Article by Christian Andrei, on June 22, 2015

For the first time ever, Kia took the top spot among all the non-premium brands when it comes to new-vehicle quality in the latest survey by J.D. Power and Associates. Another shocking result is that Japanese brands fell below the industry average – the first time that this has happened too in the 29 years that this survey has existed.

Kia took second place overall (just behind Porsche) as all of its models had improved this year. It also marks the first time Kia had two nameplates (Soul and Cadenza) in the top 10. It’s typical for brands that have launched new vehicles to drop in the rankings. However, Kia didn’t experience this with the redesigned Sedona minivan.

Furthermore, Kia did well in the technology category even as most automakers failed in this aspect. In an interview, Renee Stephens, Power’s vice president of U.S. automotive quality, said that what Kia is getting right is the audio, communication, entertainment and navigation. Meanwhile, other automakers struggled in these areas.

Ford also marks the first time since it launched MyFord Touch that it scored higher than the industry average. Because of its new infotainment system, Ford did poorly in the Initial Quality Study of J.D. Power. Even if Fiat came in last again in this study, it made the biggest leap in improvements, removing 45 problems per 100 vehicles from its score.

Infiniti trimmed 31 problems for every 100 vehicles, earning it the recognition as the second-biggest improvement. Kia is third, with a 20-point increase. The biggest decline in quality scores were Chrysler (added 32 problems per 100 vehicles), Lexus (with 12 more), Cadillac (added 7 more) and Land Rover (plus 7). The category that had the most problems was entertainment and connectivity systems.

Voice recognition and Bluetooth pairing were at the top of the problems. Even if Japanese brands had a slight improvement in 2015, it didn’t keep up with the industry. Brands from Europe and Korea had considerable gains. For only the second time, there was a tie between domestic brands and their Japanese rivals after achieving an average of 114 problems per 100 vehicles.

Meanwhile, European brands did better than the Japanese for the first time (after scoring 113). Stephens said that there appears to be a “clear shift” when it comes to quality in the auto industry.

For a long time, Japanese automakers have been perceived as the gold standard in quality. The industry leaders are General Motors, Hyundai Motor Co., Nissan Motor Corp. and Volkswagen AG.

Each of these brands had four segment winners. The vehicle with the best scores was the Lexus LS, with 61 problems for every 100 vehicles.

The Chrysler 300 sedan, which topped the large-car segment, was the lone domestic vehicle to enter the top 10 after scoring 48 fewer problems per 100 vehicles this year. This marks the first time that the 300 got in to the top 10.

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