Kia, Genesis, Porsche dominate J.D. Power's 2017 Initial Quality Study. (Fiat, not so much.)

June 22, 2017

Kia has done it again: for a second year in a row, the South Korean brand has come out on top of J.D. Power's Initial Quality Study.

The Initial Quality Study is a great one for new-car buyers to watch. Unlike Power's equally well-known Dependability Study, which evaluates new cars based on the number of problems they have over several years, the Initial Quality Study rates vehicles according to the number of issues they experience during the first 90 days of ownership.

This year's study was based on survey responses from nearly 80,000 folks who'd purchased or bought 2017 model-year vehicles. It asked them a total of 233 questions, divided into eight categories of potential problems:

  • Exterior
  • Seats
  • Driving Experience
  • Engine/Transmission
  • Features/Controls/Displays
  • Interior
  • Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning 
  • Audio/Communication/Entertainment/Navigation

The survey tracks the number of problems owners had in each of those areas, then averages them to determine the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles (PP100 for short). That gives J.D. Power a good idea of how well cars are built when they roll off the assembly line.

The winners

Last year, Kia owners reported 83 PP100, but this year, the brand did even better. Among 2017 model-year vehicles, Kia owners reported just 72 PP100. That's pretty remarkable. 

Even more remarkable is the fact that Kia is a mass-market brand. Since J.D. Power began fielding the Initial Quality Survey in 1987, luxury marques have dominated the #1 rung, with mass-market brands like Kia coming out on top just three times: 2006, 2016, and this year, 2017.

As you can see from the graphic above, Kia's sibling, the recently spun-off Genesis, came in second, with 77 PP100. German luxury brand Porsche was close on Genesis' heels, with 78 PP100.

Special mention goes to MINI, which was the most improved brand overall. Owners of 2017 MINI vehicles reported 33 fewer PP100 than they did in 2016. Ram also made significant gains, tying for fourth place with Ford after shaving off 28 PP100. Other big movers included Acura (losing 19 PP100), Volvo (losing 18 PP100) and Ford itself (losing 16 PP100).

The losers

Fiat Chrysler brands haven't fared well on the Initial Quality Study in recent years, and their fate didn't change much in 2017. Apart from Ram, all FCA brands fell below the industry average of 97 PP100. At the very bottom of this year's rankings we find Fiat itself, far and away the worst performer with 163 PP100--more than twice the number of problems reported by Kia owners.

Luxury brands rounded out the bottom three. Jaguar took the penultimate spot on the study, though its score of 148 PP100 was significantly better than Fiat's. Volvo was the third-worst performer, with 134 PP100.

Good news, bad news

On the whole, Power says that initial quality is improving, with this year's study boasting some of the best numbers on record. Detroit fans will be happy to know that quality scores among domestic marques bested those of foreign brands for a second year in a row: 93 PP100 versus 99 PP100, respectively.

However, there could be serious trouble ahead for many automakers, especially those who aren't investing the proper time and energy to improving infotainment and self-driving software.

Power notes that the biggest problem area for new-car buyers continues to be Audio/Communication/Entertainment/Navigation. While scores are improving in that area, infotainment in general remains a very weak spot.

Also alarming is the fact that despite huge quality improvements in most areas, scores fell for Features/Controls/Displays (the only area to see a year-over-year decline). This category includes features like collision avoidance, lane departure warning, and other elements of self-driving technology. As Power says, "Consumers will need to be convinced that these systems are foolproof before they will give up driving control to autonomous vehicles."

2018
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2018
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