2015 U.S. Initial Quality Study Results

Jeff Youngs | Jun 17, 2015

Korean Automakers Show Greatest Improvement in New-Car Quality

Korean automotive brands have taken the lead in terms of new-vehicle quality in the United States, as they have shown a significant drop in the number of problems per 100 vehicles (PP100), according to the J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Initial Quality StudySM (IQS). Meanwhile, Japanese brands collectively fall below industry average for the first time in the study's 29-year history. The Initial Quality Study examines problems experienced by new-vehicle owners during the first 90 days of ownership.

Overall, the industry experiences a 3% year-over-year improvement in initial quality, according to the study, averaging 112 PP100 compared with 116 PP100 in 2014. Korean brands average 90 PP100 collectively, an improvement of 11 PP100 over 2014. European brands, with 113 PP100, outperform U.S. and Japanese brands, which tie at 114 PP100. This is only the second time in the history of the IQS that U.S. brands equal the new car quality of the Japanese brands. Interestingly, Japanese brands as a whole improve by 2 PP100 year over year, but only four of the 10 Japanese nameplates included in the study show an improvement.

"This is a clear shift in the quality landscape," said Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. automotive at J.D. Power. "For so long, Japanese brands have been viewed by many as the gold standard in vehicle quality. While the Japanese automakers continue to make improvements, we're seeing other brands, most notably Korean makes, really accelerating the rate of improvement. Leading companies are not only stepping up the pace of improvements on existing models, but are also working up front to launch vehicles with higher quality and more intuitive designs."

High-Tech Features Are Still Buggy

For a third consecutive year, entertainment and connectivity systems are the most problem-prone area in the automotive business. Voice-recognition systems are often cited as problematic, as the majority of models included in the study that have voice-recognition systems experience 10 or more PP100 related to that feature. The number of owners who indicate having voice recognition in their new vehicle has increased to 67% in 2015 from 57% in 2013.

"Smartphones have set high consumer expectations of how well technology should work, and automakers are struggling to match that success in their new vehicles," said Stephens. "However, we are seeing some OEMs make important improvements along the way. What's clear is that they can't afford to wait for the next generation of models to launch before making important updates to these systems."

Porsche Leads In Overall Quality; Kia Not Far Behind

In the 2015 IQS, Porsche ranks highest in initial quality for a third consecutive year, with a score of 80 PP100. Kia ranks second at 86 PP100--an improvement of 20 PP100 over 2014, and the first time in the history of the study that Kia has led all non-premium makes in initial quality. Rounding out the top five brands are Jaguar (93 PP100), Hyundai (95 PP100), and Infiniti (97 PP100). Of those five, Infiniti shows the most dramatic improvement, improving its score by 31 PP100 from 2014.

While the study reveals no one clear quality leader among corporate automakers, it bestows multiple model awards on several companies. Following is a breakdown of awards by automaker:

General Motors
Hyundai Motor Co.
Nissan Motor Co.
Volkswagen AG
Toyota Motor Corp.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
Ford Motor Co.

BMW Receives Top Plant Quality Award

BMW AG's Rosslyn, South Africa plant, which produces the BMW 3 Series, receives the Platinum Plant Quality Award for producing vehicles with the fewest defects or malfunctions. Plant quality awards are based solely on defects and malfunctions and exclude design-related problems. In the North America/South America region, Toyota Motor Corp.'s Cambridge North, Ontario, Canada (TMMC) plant, which produces the Toyota Corolla, receives the Gold Plant Quality Award. Kia Motors Corp.'s Kwangju Plant 1, Korea, which produces the Kia Soul, receives the Gold Plant Quality Award in the Asia Pacific region.

Consumer Tips

Based on the study's findings, J.D. Power offers the following consumer tips:
  • As no single automaker dominates in terms of quality, personal compatibility with a particular make or model becomes more important. Thus, consumers in the market for a new vehicle should test as many brands as is feasible.
  • Stay aware of where problems are most likely to be encountered--such as the voice-recognition system, or other high-tech areas--and give consideration to automakers that show the highest quality in those areas.
  • Premium badges don't always promise the fewest problems. Look for the most dependable model in your price range--or those that have the fewest problems in areas that are most important to you.
  • Look for a car, truck, or SUV model that has a history of high quality (low PP100), or that has shown steady improvement in quality over recent years.

About the Study

The 2015 U.S. Initial Quality Study is based on responses from more than 84,000 purchasers and lessees of new 2015 model-year vehicles surveyed after 90 days of ownership. The study, now in its 29th year, is based on a 233-question battery organized into eight problem categories designed to provide manufacturers with information to facilitate the identification of problems and drive product improvement. The study was fielded between February and May 2015.
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