Qual­ity rank­ings reshuf­fled

Korean car­mak­ers are No. 1 in a J.D. Power sur­vey of ini­tial prob­lems, beat­ing Ja­panese ri­vals.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Jerry Hirsch jerry.hirsch@latimes.com

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 a 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 best 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 con- sumer 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 ve- hi­cles,” Stephens said.

The study is com­ple­men­tary to another an­nual re­port pub­lished by J.D. Power this year that 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.

Whereas 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, Fiat Chrysler’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.”

Car­los Oso­rio As­so­ci­ated Press

THE AS­CEN­DANCE of Hyundai and Kia marks a his­toric shift, said J.D. Power, which sur­veyed buy­ers af­ter 90 days of own­er­ship. Above is Kia’s dis­play at last year’s North Amer­i­can In­ter­na­tional Auto Show.

Mark Lennihan As­so­ci­ated Press

SOUTH KOREAN brands av­er­aged 90 re­ported prob­lems per 100 ve­hi­cles. Above, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata is in­tro­duced at New York’s auto show last year.

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