What's behind Hyundai-Kia quality win?

As new models arrive, a repeat may be tough

The Hyundai Genesis was one of the five Hyundai-Kia models that were segment winners in the 2014 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study.

Hyundai-Kia's first-ever first-place showing in the 2014 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study is a significant milestone for a Korean manufacturer that once struggled with quality.

However, as the company accelerates its cadence of new, re-engineered and refreshed vehicles for the 2015 model year -- including the Kia Soul EV and the Hyundai Genesis and Sonata -- a repeat performance will be a challenge.

The quality study tends to sting brands that have launched redesigned models containing technologies that can baffle consumers while favoring those with carryover products. The Hyundai brand's 2014 lineup is its oldest in several years.

The 2015 Sonata went on sale in May. Later 2015 models equipped with navigation will feature Apple CarPlay functionality, making it one of the first automakers to bring CarPlay to market.

Nonetheless, Hyundai's quality team believes its drive toward simplicity in the infotainment experience was a driving factor in this year's success.

Problems with voice recognition, audio systems and Bluetooth pairing beset the industry again in 2014. So one of the keys for Hyundai has been a concerted effort to limit driver confusion with easily accessible technology guides and videos, said Joshua Vedder, Hyundai Motor America's senior group manager of service quality engineering.

Hyundai also helped its cause by improving microphones and making sure Bluetooth pairing doesn't take too many button commands to activate, he said.

"We've taken action to have a pretty extensive Bluetooth compatibility Web site that customers can go to determine any issues they might have with their phone or what their causes might be. We've also done a lot of videos," Vedder said in an interview last week after the J.D. Power results were released.

He added: "A lot of this is execution, so being able to make those videos readily available to the customers through our select car-care apps or other access points for customers is really important. Not everyone reads their owner's manual."

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. Quality scores are determined by the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles, with lower scores signaling higher quality.

The Hyundai brand, with a score of 94, cut its problems by 12, while Kia's score remained at 106, 10 points better than the industry average. The Hyundai Accent, Elantra and Genesis and Kia Cadenza and Sportage all nabbed segment wins.

Only General Motors' six segment wins topped Hyundai-Kia's five.

Study highlights

  • Toyota Motor Corp. finished second, followed by last year's leader GM.
  • The Porsche Panamera, which won the large premium car category, had the best score of any model at 62 problems per 100 vehicles. The Hyundai Accent, at 65 problems, came in second, followed by the Mazda2, at 66, and the Chevrolet Silverado HD, at 68.
  • Hyundai was the top-scoring nonpremium brand for the third time in 10 years.
  • Four brands, Porsche, at 74 problems, Mercedes-Benz, at 115, Lexus, at 92, and Honda, at 108, bettered the industry average for the fifth consecutive year.

Ryan Beene contributed to this report.

You can reach Vince Bond Jr. at vbond@crain.com -- Follow Vince on Twitter: @VinceBond86

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