Korea’s long game paying off at JD Power

2018 J.D. Power initial quality

South Korea’s Hyundai-Kia has been playing a long game in quality. Over a decade ago, the company decided that, rather than going for low prices alone, it would try to compete based on quality, just as Toyota, Honda, and Nissan did when they first entered the United States.

Along the way, of course, Hyundai and Kia reaped the immediate benefits of lowered warranty claims and higher customer satisfaction, compared with their earlier “low price at any cost” strategy. The brands stopped being a joke long ago.

2018 J.D. Power initial quality

Genesis, once a Hyundai sub-brand but now on its own, hit J.D. Power’s first place mark in initial quality (for the first 90 days), with 68 problems per hundred cars. Kia was #2, with 72, and Hyundai was #3 with 74. The industry average, by comparison, was 93 problems per hundred vehicles.  Given that Hyundai and Kia sell almost identical vehicles, the two points between them are likely random variance.

Two smaller brands, Mazda and Mitsubishi, had major improvements, with Mazda shooting up by 25 points. The former worst-place recipient, Fiat, dropped out because almost nobody has been buying their cars.

The biggest problem comes in the “infotainment” systems, which often control not just the radio and navigation, but also the climate control.

GM did fairly well, but not as well as expected, given how well its brands do on the long-term surveys; and Chevrolet, the least costly brand, was also the best, with 82 problems/100. Cadillac was much further down the list (90), with Buick below average (95) and, oddly, GMC well below average (99).  Since J.D. Power doesn’t provide standard deviations or error ranges any more, it’s hard to tell whether Chevrolet and GMC should be that far apart, or whether there’s just a lot of noise in the numbers.

Chevrolet Cruze car review

Ford was best of the USA brands, with 81 problems/100 cars, and Lincoln at 83; those two brands managed to beat Lexus, Toyota, BMW, and Mercedes.

Fiat Chrysler came in last of the USA brands, with Ram topping the chart at 84, Jeep below average at 96, Dodge at 98, and the eponymous Chrysler doing quite poorly at 111. Only a few brands scored as low (or the same) as Chrysler: from best to worst, those were Audi, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Volvo, Jaguar, and Land Rover. On the lighter side for Chrysler, it means the brand is competing, in a way, with Audi, Volvo, and Jaguar.

It’s not worth looking too hard at these numbers, since they do only measure the first 90 days, and as such can reflect factory and dealer inspections as much as anything else. Still, it’s interesting to see Toyota below average, GMC so far below Chevrolet, Honda well below any GM or Ford brand (as well as any FCA brand other than Chrysler itself), and Land Rover in their traditional bottom spot, now that Fiat’s gone.

It’s also interesting to see that even low ranked brands can have standouts in particular niches — for example, Dodge beat everyone else, including Kia and Toyota, in minivans. BMW and Mercedes topped the list of Small Premium SUVs, but there may not have been anyone else playing. The Chrysler 300 scored above average, so we know there are some pretty big Pacifica problems. We can also see there’s no separation of electrics, since the Bolt is ranked above average in small cars.

If you want to see more detail with different research methods, hop on down to TrueDelta,  which has just done their final round of data collection.

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