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Kia tops J.D. Power’s annual quality awards

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

For the first time in 27 years, a non-premium brand beat out its luxury counterparts to rank highest in initial quality, according to the the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Initial Quality Study released Wednesday.

Kia ranked No. 2 in the 2015 study.

Kia reported the fewest problems per 100 vehicles in the first 90 days of ownership, beating out second-place Porsche. It’s the first time a non-premium brand has claimed the study’s top spot since Toyota in 1989.

Overall, 21 of 33 brands improved as overall industry quality rose 6 percent compared to 2015. The study, released at an Automotive Press Association meeting in Detroit, also found that domestic brands out-performed their imported rivals for just the second time in the study’s 30-year history.

“It’s a banner year for the industry,” Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. automotive quality at J.D. Power, said in an interview. “We’re really seeing tremendous improvement in so many areas.”

The study, which many buyers consult before purchasing a new car, looks at problems new owners have in the first 90 days with a vehicle. The lower the score, the higher the vehicle quality.

Stephens said automakers improved vehicle quality in each of the eight segments measured, including longstanding problem areas like the category for audio, entertainment, connectivity and navigation. She said that new driver assist technologies, like blind-spot warning and lane-keeping assist, have fairly low problem rates.

“Tracking our data over the past several years, it has become clear that automakers are listening to the customer, identifying pain points and are focused on continuous improvement,” Stephens said in a statement. “Even as they add more content, including advanced technologies that have had a reputation for causing problems, overall quality continues to improve.”

General Motors Co. received the most model awards with seven, followed by Toyota Motor Corp.’s six model awards. Hyundai Motor Co. and Volkswagen AG each won four.

Kia’s top spot among brands follows a second-place finish in 2015. Porsche came in second this year, followed by Hyundai, Toyota and BMW.

“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,” Michael Sprague, chief operating officer and EVP, Kia Motors America, said in a statement. “As the highest ranked brand in the industry, there is no doubt Kia is a world-class automaker.”

Chrysler and Jeep are the most improved brands, each reducing the number of problems by 28 from 2015. Fiat Chrysler has long been plagued by quality issues, but Stephens said this year’s results are meaningful.

“There’s certainly more work to do, but they made a significant step,” she said.

The company’s Fiat brand struggled again this year with a second-to-last score, but FCA said those results are “skewed by limited models and sample sizes.”

“Fiat has done well in recent third-party surveys that measure customer satisfaction and vehicle quality,” the company said in a statement. “Fiat recently tied Kia — who took the top spot in IQS — for the title of industry’s best brand for total quality with vehicles under $26,000 in Strategic Vision’s 22nd Annual Total Quality Impact study. In that same report, Fiat 500 led the Micro Car segment. In addition, Fiat 500 earned top honors in J.D. Power’s 2015 U.S. APEAL Study and ranked highest among City Cars in J.D. Power’s 2016 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS).”

Among Detroit’s other automakers, all of GM’s brands besides Cadillac ranked above the industry average, and both the Ford and Lincoln brands ranked in the top 11.

“There’s been some very positive movement by all three of these companies, Stephens said.

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J.D. Power IQS Model Winners

■ City car: Chevrolet Spark

■ Small car: Hyundai Accent

■Small premium car: Lexus CT

■ Compact car: Toyota Corolla

■Compact sporty car: Buick Cascada and Scion tC (tie)

■Compact MPV: Kia Soul

■Compact premium car: Lincoln MKZ

■Compact premium sporty car: Audi TT

■Midsize car: Toyota Camry

■Midsize sporty car: Dodge Challenger

■Minivan: Chrysler Town & Country

■Midsize premium car: Lexus GS

■Midsize premium sporty car: Porsche 911

■Large car: Hyundai Azera

■Small SUV: Kia Sportage

■Small premium SUV: Audi Q3

■Compact SUV: Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain (tie)

■Compact premium SUV: Porsche Macan

■Midsize SUV: Toyota Highlander

■Midsize premium SUV: BMW X5

■Midsize pickup: Nissan Frontier

■Large SUV: Chevrolet Tahoe

■Large premium SUV: Lincoln Navigator

■Large light-duty pickup: Chevrolet Silverado LD

■Large heavy-duty pickup: Chevrolet Silverado HD