Kia tops J.D. Power initial quality awards for 2nd year

Ian Thibodeau, The Detroit News

Kia once again topped J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study, marking the second consecutive year the South Korean brand beat luxury counterparts for the least problems reported by new-car owners in the first 90 days of ownership.

And four Detroit brands made the Top 10: Ram and Ford tied for fourth place, Chevrolet tied for sixth and Lincoln came in ninth. The influential study, released Wednesday at an Automotive Press Association meeting in Detroit, assigns scores determined by the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles. It frequently is consulted by new-cars shoppers.

New-car quality reached its highest level in the study’s 31-year history, with owners of 2017 vehicles experiencing fewer problems with audio, communication, entertainment and navigation gadgetry than a year ago.

However, in a possible sign of problems to come, owners reported more problems with driver-assist features — things like adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, collision avoidance and blind-spot detection. J.D. Power says that should sound “warning bells” if automakers and suppliers move too fast.

“This is not a tidal wave of problems... but does give us a pause, or thought or concern because these things are coming quickly and other more sophisticated versions of these will be coming,” said Dave Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power.

J.D. Power says 27 of 33 brands improved quality from a year ago. And for the second straight year and just the third time since 1987, the Detroit Three brands outperformed import rival brands.

The study surveyed more than 77,000 people who bought or leased 2017 model-year vehicles. The lower the score, the higher the vehicle quality.

Kia finished with 72 problems per 100 vehicles, while another South Korean make – Genesis, which is Hyundai’s new luxury brand and is ranked for the first time – came in second with 77 problems per 100. The Kia Cadenza large car was the best-performing vehicle in the study, reporting 51 problems per 100 vehicles.

“When Kia beat out the entire industry in last year’s J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, many people wondered if we could maintain such a lofty position. Today, the answer is loud and clear as Kia owns the top spot for the second straight year with more 2017 segment award winners than any other nameplate,” Michael Sprague, chief operating officer of Kia Motors America, said in a statement. “Our back-to-back chart-topping IQS performances reconfirm Kia’s status as today’s world-class automaker.”

Ford and Ram tied at fourth place with 86 problems per 100 vehicles and made big gains from a year ago: Ram moved all the way up from the 19th spot last year, when owners reported 114 problems for every 100 trucks; and Ford moved from 11th place a year ago, when its score was 102. It was the best-ever finish for the Ford brand.

Sargent called Ford’s improvement “phenomenal” for a brand with so many vehicles. He said nearly all Ford vehicles had significant improvement from a year ago, partly because of fewer infotainment problems reported.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV said its initial quality scores improved faster than the industry average for the second straight year, led by Ram’s big jump.

Chevrolet kept its sixth-place ranking this year, in a three-way tie with BMW and Hyundai. Ford’s luxury brand Lincoln dropped from seventh-place last year to ninth, even though owners reported four fewer problems per 100 cars.

The industry average was 97 problems per 100 vehicles. GM’s Buick brand finished just above that benchmark, with 95 problems per 100 vehicles. GMC, Chrysler, Cadillac, Dodge, Jeep and Fiat all finished below the average. Fiat was in last place with 163 problems per 100 vehicles. Toyota, Lexus, Infiniti, Audi, Mitsubishi and Jaguar all fared worse in the results this year. For Lexus, it was the first time falling below the industry average.

Tesla was not ranked because the Palo Alto, California-based automaker has not given J.D. Power permission to collect registration data from states such as California, where most of its vehicles are sold, Sargent said. Without that, J.D. Power says it doesn’t have a large enough sample.

Hyundai Motor Co. nabbed the most segment awards with five No.1 spots for Kia vehicles, followed by General Motors Co. and BMW each with four.

GM’s Fort Wayne Assembly Plant in Roanoke, Indiana, also received the J.D. Power Gold Plant Quality Award for having the highest manufacturing quality in North or South America for 2017. The plant builds light-duty and heavy-duty versions of the Chevrolet Silverado pickup and heavy-duty versions of the GMC Sierra pickup.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau

Segment winners

Small car: Chevrolet Sonic

Small premium car: BMW 2 Series

Compact car: Kia Forte

Compact sporty car: Mini Cooper

Compact multipurpose vehicle: Kia Soul

Compact premium car: BMW 4 Series

Midsize car: Toyota Camry

Midsize sporty car: Ford Mustang

Minivan: Chrysler Pacifica

Midsize premium car: Lexus GS

Midsize premium sporty car: Porsche 911

Large car: Kia Cadenza

Small SUV: Kia Niro

Small premium SUV: Mercedes-Benz GLA

Compact SUV: GMC Terrain

Compact premium SUV: Porsche Macan

Midsize SUV: Kia Sorento

Midsize premium SUV: BMW X6

Midsize pickup: Nissan Frontier

Large SUV: Ford Expedition

Large premium SUV: Infiniti QX80

Large light-duty pickup: Chevrolet Silverado

Large heavy-duty pickup: Chevrolet Silverado HD

Source: 2017 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study