South Korean automakers, originally seen as laggards in quality, are quickly closing the gap with their competitors, a major study shows.
In the initial quality study released this week by the market research firm J.D. Power, Kia ranked second and Hyundai fourth. It was the first time since the study was started 29 years ago that Kia led nonpremium brands in initial quality.
And, although Lexus, Toyota and Honda were above the industry average in initial quality, when all Japanese brands were combined they fell below the industry average, 112, for the first time.
“The astonishing thing is the improvement rate of the Koreans,” said Renee Stephens, vice president for United States automotive quality at J.D. Power, in a telephone interview. While the industry over all improved by 3 percent, the South Korean automakers improved 11 percent.
“It’s a clear shift in the quality landscape,” Ms. Stephens said. “It’s changing the pace that you need to be at in order to be ahead.”
Japanese brands as a whole improved at a rate of 1 percent, while the domestic automakers and European automakers improved by 3 percent, Ms. Stephens said.
The initial quality study measures problems experienced by buyers and lessees of new vehicles in the first 90 days of possession.
J.D. Power then ranks brands by the number of problems reported per 100 vehicles; the lower the number of problems, the higher the ranking. This year’s study included 215 models and 33 brand rankings. More than one problem can be recorded per vehicle.
South Korean brands led the industry in initial quality by the widest margin ever, averaging a score of 90 problems per 100 vehicles. For the first time in the study, European brands, with a score of 113 per 100, surpassed Japanese brands, with 114. Domestic makes, with 114, equaled the Japanese for only a second time.
Communications technology continues to be the biggest problem category, with voice recognition remaining No.1. The majority of models in the study that had voice recognition systems had 10 or more problems related to that feature per 100 vehicles. And the number of owners who said they had voice recognition has increased to 67 percent in 2015 from 57 percent in 2013.
Porsche was ranked the most reliable brand for the third consecutive year with a score of 80 problems per 100.
After Porsche, with 80 problems per 100, brands that rounded out the top 10 were Kia, 86; Jaguar, 93; Hyundai, 95; Infiniti, 97; BMW, 99; Chevrolet, 101; Lincoln, 103; Lexus, 104; and Toyota, 104.
The bottom five were Jeep, 141; Subaru, 142; Chrysler, 143; Smart, 154; and, in last place, Fiat, 161.
The vehicle with the fewest problems was the Lexus LS, 61 per 100. It was followed by the Porsche 911, 65; and the Chrysler 300, 66. The Chrysler 300 was the nonluxury model and the domestic model with the fewest problems.
This year’s study is based on responses from 84,000 owners or lessees of 2015 vehicles. The survey covers 233 questions about possible problems, which include mechanical defects and malfunctions as well as design issues.