Surprise! Non-luxury car brand now tops quality study
Kia, the upstart South Korean brand that spent years trying to overcome a reputation for shoddy cars, placed first Wednesday in one of the auto industry's most closely watched quality surveys.
It marked the first time in 27 years that a non-luxury brand has come in first in the J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study, which rates brands by the number of flaws found by owners in their cars in the first 90 days of ownership. Mainstream brands collectively had a cumulative higher quality score than all the luxury brands for the first time since 2006.
In placing first out of 33 brands, Kia owners reported 83 problems per 100 cars, beating the industry average of 105. In winning, Kia moves up from second in the study last year.
Kia executives in the U.S. expressed elation.
"Ranking number one in the entire industry for initial quality is the result of Kia's decade-long focus on craftsmanship and continuous improvement, and reflects the voice of our customers, which is the ultimate affirmation," said Michael Sprague, chief operating officer for Kia Motors America, in a statement. "As the highest ranked brand in the industry, there is no doubt Kia is a world-class automaker."
In the 2016 survey, Kia's corporate cousin in the U.S., Hyundai, came in third behind Porsche, last year's winner. Toyota and BMW round out the Top 5, J.D. Power said.
Overall, the annual survey points to big gains in the overall quality of vehicles. Some 21 of the 33 brands in the study showed an improvement over their 2016 scores in the study.
"Manufacturers are current making some of the highest-quality products that we've ever seen," says Renee Stephens, vice president of automotive quality at J.D. Power. "It has become clear that automakers are listening to the customer, identifying 'pain points' and are focused on continuous improvement."
Among the most encouraging signs in the survey: For only the second time in study's 30-year history, Detroit's Big 3 brands collectively had fewer problems than their import-brand counterparts. They had 103 flaws per 100 vehicles, compared to an average of 106 for foreign brands.
Chrysler and Jeep were the most improved brands. Both had 28 fewer reported problems than a year ago, though both are still worse than the industry average.
Power says the study matters because owners who perceive their new models are high quality are likely to stay with brand when they buy their next car. Those who didn't find a single problem in the first 90 days of ownership were, by a 54% margin, likely to stay with the brand the next time they buy a new car. That number falls to 50% among those who reported a single problem.
Among worst car brands, Mercedes-Benz Smart unit far outdistanced the others. It had 216 problems per 100 cars with Fiat coming in second to last with 174 and Volvo with 132.
Here is Power's ranking and the number of flaws reported per 100 cars:
Buick 96 (tie)
Lexus 96 (tie)
Lincoln 96 (tie)
GMC 103 (tie)
Infiniti 103 (tie)
INDUSTRY AVERAGE 105
Jaguar 127 (tie)
Mazda 127 (tie)
Mini 127 (tie)
Land Rover 132
Top Three Models Per Segment
City Car: Chevrolet Spark
Small Car: Hyundai Accent, Chevrolet Sonic, Kia Rio
Small Premium Car: Lexus CT, BMW 2 Series, Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class
Compact Car: Toyota Corolla, Kia Forte, Hyundai Elantra
Compact Sporty Car: Buick Cascada (tie), Scion tC (tie), Hyundai Veloster
Compact MPV: Kia Soul
Compact Premium Car: Lincoln MKZ, Lexus ES, BMW 3 Series
Compact Premium Sporty Car: Audi TT, Porsche Boxster, Porsche Cayman
Midsize Car: Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Honda Accord
Midsize Sporty Car: Dodge Challenger
Minivan: Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Grand Caravan
Midsize Premium Car: Lexus GS, Audi A7, Hyundai Genesis
Midsize Premium Sporty Car: Porsche 911
Large Car: Hyundai Azera, Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Impala
Small SUV: Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Buick Encore
Small Premium SUV: Audi Q3, BMW X1
Compact SUV: Chevrolet Equinox (tie), GMC Terrain (tie), Ford Escape
Compact Premium SUV: Porsche Macan, Lincoln MKC, BMW X3
Midsize SUV: Toyota Highlander, Kia Sorento, Nissan Murano
Midsize Premium SUV: BMW X5, BMW X6, Lexus RX
Midsize Pickup: Nissan Frontier, GMC Canyon, Chevrolet Colorado
Large SUV: Chevrolet Tahoe, Toyota Sequoia, Ford Expedition
Large Premium SUV: Lincoln Navigator, Infiniti QX80, Land Rover Range Rover
Large Light Duty Pickup: Chevrolet Silverado LD, GMC Sierra LD
Large Heavy Duty Pickup: Chevrolet Silverado HD, Ford Super Duty, GMC Sierra HD