South Korean auto brands surpass Japanese in J.D. Power quality study

South Korean auto brands top Japanese in latest J.D. Power quality rankings

South Korean auto brands now lead the industry when measured by the initial quality of their cars sold in the U.S., according to J.D. Power, the automotive research firm.

The ascendance of Hyundai and Kia marks an historic shift in the automotive world, said J.D. Power, which conducts an annual survey asking new car buyers about their vehicles after 90 days of ownership

As a group, Japan's automakers were also surpassed by European brands, while domestic nameplates matched the Japanese for only the second time in the 29 years J.D. Power has published its U.S. initial quality study. But both the Japanese and U.S. automakers were below the industry average.

“This is a clear shift in the quality landscape,” said Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. automotive quality at J.D. Power. “For so long, Japanese brands have been viewed by many as the gold standard in vehicle quality.”

Although the Japanese automakers continue to make quality improvements — as measured by the number of problems owners report per 100 new vehicles — other brands are improving at a faster pace.

South Korean brands averaged 90 reported problems per 100 vehicles. The Europeans logged 113 and the Japanese and American brands tied at 114. The industry average was 112.

Among individual brands, Porsche ranked the highest for a third consecutive year, posting a score of 80 problems per 100 vehicles, It was followed by Kia with 86, Jaguar with 93, Hyundai with 95 and Infiniti with 97. Rounding out the top 10 were BMW with 99; Chevrolet, 101; Lincoln, 103; and Lexus and Toyota, both 104.

Fiat scored the worst with 161 problems per 100 vehicles. Rounding out the bottom five were Smart, 154; Chrysler, 143; Subaru, 142; and Jeep, 141.

Technology continues to be the biggest source of consumer complaints, with voice recognition and Bluetooth pairing topping the problem list.

“Smartphones have set high consumer expectations of how well technology should work, and automakers are struggling to match that success in their new vehicles,” Stephens said.

The study is complementary to another annual report published by J.D. Power earlier this year which looked at problems reported by drivers after three years of ownership. Lexus, Buick, Toyota, Cadillac, Honda and Porsche were the top brands in that study.

Although the initial quality study tends to highlight electronic and technology glitches as well as design problems that make the various car functions difficult to use, the longer term study reveals “wear and tear issues,” said John Humphrey, senior vice president and general manager of global automotive operations at J.D. Power.

Nonetheless, the firm has found a “strong correlation” between the two reports.

“If you start out poorly in the initial quality study you usually do poorly in the vehicle dependability study several years later,” Humphrey said.

One carmaker that has failed to figure out either study is Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Only its Ram truck line scored above average in the rankings published Wednesday.

Jeep, Chrysler and Fiat scored among the worst five out of the 33 brands.

“They don’t do well in any of our quality studies,” Humphrey said.

“We need to significantly accelerate our pace of improvement for the entire product line, because the industry isn’t standing still," said Matt Liddane, FCA’s vice president for quality in North America. "Our goal is to convert new customers into satisfied, loyal owners and we’re committed to doing just that.”

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