The increasing frequency of vehicle launches, coupled with the complex infotainment systems going into new models these days, make launching a vehicle a big risk for a brand's quality perception.
The more cars and trucks that automakers introduced in 2012, the worse those companies did in the 2013 J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study survey released last week.
With virtually no launches, Hyundai and Kia jumped eight places into the top 10 in the study, which measures customer satisfaction during the first 90 days of owning a new vehicle.
But Nissan plunged from No. 12 to No. 30 in the Power survey after redesigning the Altima, Sentra and Pathfinder, which account for more than half its sales.
General Motors, the big winner in the 2013 survey, replaced just 12 percent of its sales volume during the 2013 model year, and three of its four brands improved their IQS ranking. Cadillac slipped from fourth to 13th, largely because of the launch of the ATS and XTS.
"Product launches are the biggest factor in initial quality rankings," said David Sargent, author of the Power study.
Referring to Nissan, he said: "Anybody who has launches of more than 50 percent of their volume will have a quality problem."
For the first time in 27 annual IQS surveys, GMs surpassed both Toyota Motor Sales and American Honda to rank No. 1 At the brand level, GMC vaulted to No. 2 behind Porsche. Chevrolet placed fifth. GM also was No. 1 in eight segments. Most of those segment leaders were models about to be replaced.
But Sargent says GM's top ranking was secured by launches that had few quality glitches. "GM has always been good about fixing problems on existing vehicles, but now it has gotten much better at launching new product with quality," he said.
He said the new Buick Encore was tops in its segment and the redesigned Chevy Malibu was fourth-best in the mid-sized car category.