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Market Insight: Kia quality lifts in US study

Solid: New-generation models often take a hit in the quality study due to teething problems, but Kia’s latest Sedona (sold as Carnival here) improved its position compared with last year.

Korean brands outshine Japanese as Kia tops mainstream marques in JD quality study

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Market Insight logo19 Jun 2015

KIA has emerged as the standout performer in the 2015 JD Power and Associates Initial Quality Study (IQS) in the United States, with the South Korean brand leading every other mainstream brand for the first time in the 29-year history of the influential annual study.

At the same time, and in another first for the IQS, Japanese brands overall fell behind the industry average in the study, which examines problems experienced by vehicle owners during the first 90 days of ownership.

This year’s industry average of 112 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) marks a three per cent improvement over last year, with Kia second only to Porsche on the overall list spanning 33 prestige and mass-market brands.

Kia’s result of 86 PP100 was 20 problems fewer per 100 vehicles than last year, placing it just 6 PP100 shy of the German sportscar marque that has been the industry benchmark for several years.

With Hyundai in fourth position overall with 95 PP100, making it the second-best mainstream car-maker next to its sister brand, Korean brands led the entire industry in initial quality by the widest margin ever, averaging 90 PP100 – up 11 PP100 on last year – compared to Japanese brands on 114 PP100 (up 2 PP100).

According to JD Power, Japanese brands are improving slightly but have failed to keep pace with the industry as US domestic brands pushed up alongside them this year (also on 114) and European brands (113) surpassed them for the first time ever.

Infiniti was the best-placed Japanese brand on 97 PP100 – and one of the most-improved brands in the study, lowering its problem score by 31 PP100 over last year. Toyota and Lexus were next on 104 each, while Honda just scraped in ahead of the industry average at 111.

That left the likes of Nissan (121), Mazda (123), Mitsubishi (126), Subaru (142) and US-oriented off-shoots Acura (126) and Scion (124) with higher scores that in turn reflect lower quality, joining many other high-profile brands that will also be contemplating their performance in the study – Audi (115), Volvo (120), Cadillac (122), Mini (122), Volkswagen (123) and most of the brands in the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles stable, to name only a few.

Fiat was at the bottom of the table, on 161 PP100, although this represented the biggest improvement of any brands (trimming 45 problems per 100 vehicles).

Of more concern for FCA was that Chrysler (143) suffered the biggest quality hit with a worrying 32 PP100 increase.

Only four of the 10 Japanese brands included in the study posted an improvement, prompting JD Power vice-president of US automotive quality, Renee Stephens, to describe the result as “a clear shift in the quality landscape”.

“For so long, Japanese brands have been viewed by many as the gold standard in vehicle quality,” Ms Stephens said.

“While the Japanese auto-makers continue to make improvements, we’re seeing other brands, most notably Korean makes, really accelerating the rate of improvement.

“Leading companies are not only stepping up the pace of improvements on existing models, but are also working up front to launch vehicles with higher quality and more intuitive designs.”

This year’s IQS results are based on responses from more than 84,000 purchasers and lessees of new 2015 model-year vehicles, surveyed after 90 days of ownership. It covers 233 questions across eight “problem categories” and is designed, according to JD Power, to provide manufacturers with “information to facilitate the identification of problems and drive product improvement”.

Entertainment and connectivity systems remain the most problem-prone area – for the third consecutive year – with voice recognition and Bluetooth pairing topping the problem list.

This year’s study found that of those models included in the study which have voice recognition systems, the majority are reported as having 10 or more PP100 directly related to this feature.

The uptake of voice recognition was also notable, with 67 per cent of owners having the technology in their cars compared to 57 per cent in 2013.

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

“However, we are seeing some OEMs make important improvements along the way.

What’s clear is that they can’t afford to wait for the next generation of models to launch before making important updates to these systems.”

Among individual models, Kia had two nameplates, Soul and Cadenza, in the top 10 – the first time the brand has reached this group – and Sorento and Soul topped their respective categories. Rio, Optima, Sportage, Sedona and Cadenza were also ranked in the top three of their respective segment.

“We believe the JD Power report leaves no doubt that Kia builds world-class vehicles, and the results are especially gratifying as the IQS study truly reflects the voice of our customers,” said Kia Motors America chief operating officer Michael Sprague.

“Kia’s rise is one of the industry’s greatest success stories and is driven by the hard work of thousands of team members around the world as well as our long-term strategy to concentrate on quality, strengthen the brand and elevate the ownership experience.” Hyundai’s Accent and Tucson also took category wins, while General Motors’ Chevrolet brand took four model awards (with Malibu and Spark among them) and Porsche and BMW each claimed three.

JD Power does not undertake a comparable IQS in Australia, but has implemented its Customer Service Index (CSI) Study here, which measures buyer satisfaction with the aftersales service process.

The Japanese brands have held sway at the top of the Australian CSI results since the inaugural survey in 2010, although Hyundai and Kia have made significant improvements.

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