Kia ranked 1st in Initial Quality among 2015 competitive vehicles

Kia topped all other nonpremium brands in J.D. Power and Associates' latest survey of new-vehicle quality for the first time ever, while Japanese brands fell below the industry average -- another first in the study's 29-year history.

Each Kia vehicle improved this year as the Korean brand rose to second place in the overall rankings, behind Porsche. Kia had two nameplates, the Soul and Cadenza, in the top 10 — the first time the automaker has had vehicles in that elite group. While brands that launch new vehicles tend to take hits in the rankings, Kia avoided such a fate with the redesigned Sedona minivan.

Kia also performed well in the technology category, which continues to confound much of the industry.

"One of the biggest areas they improved was the audio, communication, entertainment and [navigation], which everyone is struggling with. They’re getting it right," said Renee Stephens, Power's vice president of U.S. automotive quality, in an interview. 

Ford rises

Ford, which has struggled in Power's closely watched Initial Quality Study, has battled through its growing pains with MyFord Touch to score above the industry average for the first time since introducing the infotainment system in 2011.

Although Fiat again ranked last in the study, it had the largest improvement of any brand, trimming 45 problems per 100 vehicles from its score. Infiniti had the second-largest improvement with 31 fewer problems per 100 vehicles, while Kia was next with a 20-point gain.

Chrysler (+32 problems per 100 vehicles), Lexus (+12), Cadillac (+7) and Land Rover (+7) showed the largest erosion in quality scores.

Power found that entertainment and connectivity systems remain the industry’s most problem-prone areas. Topping the list of gripes: problems with voice recognition and Bluetooth pairing.

Japan falls behind

Although Japanese brands as a whole improved slightly in 2015, it wasn't enough to keep pace with the industry, notably major gains by European and Korean brands.

Domestic brands tied their Japanese rivals for just the second time after recording an average of 114 problems per 100 vehicles. European brands, on the other hand, bested the Japanese makes for the first time with a score of 113.

"This is a clear shift in the quality landscape," said Stephens. "For so long, Japanese brands have been viewed by many as the gold standard in vehicle quality."

General Motors, Hyundai Motor Co., Nissan Motor Corp. and Volkswagen AG each had four segment winners to lead the industry.

The Lexus LS, with 61 problems per 100 vehicles, was the top-scoring vehicle. The Chrysler 300 sedan, winner of the large-car segment, was the only domestic product to reach the top 10 after registering 48 fewer problems per 100 vehicles in 2015. It is the first time the 300 has placed in the top 10.

Korean brands improved 11 percent year on year, while domestic and European brands each increased 3 percent. Japanese brands, in contrast, improved 1 percent.

Historic shift

Stephens said the Japanese brands’ position below the industry average is a "historic shift."

"The main area that stood out to me this year is really the quality patterns that shifted in the industry. Looking at it over time like we have, the improvement rate on the domestics, European and Korean brands now outpaces the Japanese brands -- and that was something we hadn't seen in a very long time," she said.

The 2015 Initial Quality Study is based on feedback from more than 84,000 buyers and lessees of new 2015 model vehicles after 90 days of ownership. The study was conducted from February to May of this year.

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