Hyundai-Kia tops J.D. Power's Initial Quality Study for 1st time
Toyota takes 2nd place, GM is 3rd; Ford brand back up to industry average
For the first time, Hyundai-Kia group topped rival automakers in J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study, while last year’s leader, General Motors, fell to third.
Hyundai and sibling-brand Kia led the U.S. industry in five segments in the 2014 study, second only to GM’s six segment wins. The combination of the Hyundai brand’s No. 4 ranking and Kia’s sixth-place finish put the Korean manufacturer ahead of No. 2 Toyota Motor Corp., whose overall score was dragged down by its Scion brand.
The Ford brand, which had wrestled with MyFord Touch infotainment system glitches that hurt its scores in recent years, recovered to match the industry average. (Click here to see table.)
While new-vehicle launches tend to weigh down scores as consumers get acclimated to new technologies, Kia avoided that with the Cadenza -- a vehicle previously released in Korea before coming to the United States.
In contrast, GMC lost ground with the launch of its redesigned Sierra. The Sierra led the large light-duty pickup segment in 2013 but didn’t make J.D. Power’s top three pickups this year.
“Kia had a bit of help because the vehicle [Cadenza] had been in existence in Korea for a couple of years, so it’s a launch in the U.S. market but it’s not a launch of a brand-new, never-been-seen-before vehicle. That helps,” said David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power, in an interview. “Some of the imports can have a bit of a head start if they launched in their domestic market first.”
Quality scores are determined by the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles, with lower scores signaling higher quality.
The 2014 Initial Quality Study is based on feedback from more than 86,000 buyers and lessees of new 2014 model year vehicles after 90 days of ownership. The study was conducted from February to May of this year.
Porsche, part of the Volkswagen AG, had 74 problems per 100 vehicles, the top score among brands for the second consecutive year. It was followed by Jaguar (with 87 problems), Lexus (92), Hyundai (94) and Toyota (105).
Hyundai improved its score by 12 points, while Kia’s score remained at 106, 10 points better than the industry average. The Hyundai Accent, Elantra and Genesis as well as the Kia Cadenza and Sportage all nabbed segment wins.
“Receiving IQS awards in multiple vehicle segments acknowledges Hyundai’s commitment to quality and customer satisfaction across our entire product lineup, not just our luxury vehicles,” said Dave Zuchowski, CEO of Hyundai Motor America, in a statement.
GM’s Buick Encore, Chevrolet Malibu, Chevrolet Silverado HD, Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Terrain and GMC Yukon captured segment honors.
“Having the most award recipients of any automaker shows that we are on the right track by putting the customer front and center in everything we do,” said Alicia Boler-Davis, senior vice president of GM’s global quality and customer experience.
The Porsche Panamera, which won the large premium car category, was the highest-scoring vehicle overall with 62 problems reported for every 100 vehicles.
The Hyundai Accent (65) came in second, followed by the Mazda2 (66) and Chevrolet Silverado HD (68).
First 90 days
Sargent said the initial 90-day window is a crucial determinant in building customer loyalty.
J.D. Power 2006-12 data shows that 57 percent of customers who reported no problems in the first 90 days bought the same brand again, compared to 46 percent of those who reported five or more problems.
“This is worth literally billions of dollars to the automakers,” Sargent said today during an Automotive Press Association event in Detroit. “Every percentage point lost of loyalty is hundreds of millions of dollars to an automaker.”
The industry’s average of 116 problems per 100 vehicles was a slight increase from 113 in 2013, with J.D. Power attributing the rise to technological issues such as Bluetooth pairing, voice recognition and audio system issues. Newly launched vehicles, which are completely new to the market or have gone through significant redesigns, scored an average of 128 problems per 100 vehicles, compared with 113 for carryover vehicles, the study says.
“Things will stabilize,” Sargent said. “The early adopters of this type of system like Ford are starting to see some improvement, but coming behind them are lots of other manufacturers who are now introducing similar type of technology. Once we get through that first round, I suspect that we’ll see some improvement. Maybe three to four years before we start to see some improvement.”
Ford made strides in 2014 as it met the industry average for the first time since launching MyFord Touch.
The brand had ranked in the top five in 2010 before beginning its slide in 2011 after introducing a MyFord Touch setup that spawned widespread consumer complaints. Sargent said glitches included system freezes and a lagging screen that was slow to respond to button commands.
Ford has since responded by adding knobs and buttons to the center console and sending out software updates to remedy problems.
The brand scored 116, 15 points better than in 2013, to match the industry average.
“Almost all of their vehicles improved, including some of their high-volume vehicles like the Escape, like the Fusion and the Focus,” Sargent said. “Part of the improvement was a reduction in MyFord Touch-type problems.”
Nissan (120) had the largest improvement among brands after seeing its score trimmed by 22 points.
Sargent said Nissan is rebounding after faltering in 2013 when it launched the Altima, Pathfinder and Sentra, adding 43 points to its problems-per-100-vehicles score.
Jaguar (87) and Ram (116) were the other big improvers among brands sitting at or above the industry average.
A strong launch of the sporty F-Type propelled Jaguar to second place in the brand rankings after finishing eighth in 2013. Jaguar said its 2014 lineup also included the XK coupe and convertible, and the XF and XJ sedans.
Ram’s rise was attributed, in part, to advancements in its audio entertainment system.
In addition to GMC, scores tumbled for Fiat, Infiniti, Acura and Jeep after major launches.
The Infiniti Q50 sedan, Acura MDX crossover, Jeep Cherokee, GMC Sierra and Fiat 500L all made debuts.
Fiat (206) added 52 problems per 100 vehicles, and Infiniti (128) had 33 more. Acura (131) tallied 29 more problems than it did a year earlier, and Jeep (146) increased by 28.
Chrysler Group says it has largely addressed the Jeep brand’s technology problems with software updates.
On the Fiat side, the automaker says the 2014 Fiat 500 was actually its third-best performing vehicle in the study, but the car didn’t have a large enough sample size to factor into the overall brand ranking. More 2013 Fiat 500’s were being sold during the survey period than the improved 2014 edition, Chrysler Group said.
“An owner’s quality perception is as much about delivering new products the customer loves ‒ including the latest technology, fuel efficiency, and a well-crafted design ‒ as it is minimizing dislikes such as a voice recognition system that misunderstands commands or a trip to the dealer for a repair,” said Doug Betts, Chrysler Group’s senior vice president of quality, in a statement. “It’s important to continually update our product line and introduce new technologies, but that can have a short-term affect for brands like Jeep and Fiat with new product and technology introductions.”
Acura’s rank fell to 25th place from sixth in 2013, largely attributable to the MDX's launch.
Overall, Fiat was the last-place brand, below Jeep. Rounding out the bottom five were Mitsubishi (145), Scion (140) and Mazda (139).
GMC, which was in second place in 2013, fell out of the top 10 after scoring the industry average of 116. It scored 90 in 2013.
"All of those vehicles are very high volume within those lineups,” Sargent said. “If you launch a high-volume vehicle and it doesn’t go particularly well, then as a brand, you’re going to show some significant decline. One would expect them to bounce back as the vehicle improves with age."
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