2019 Initial Quality:New-Vehicle Quality Stalls After Four Years of Improvement

Philly Murtha | Jun 19, 2019

New-vehicle initial quality in 2019 remains unchanged from 2018, marking the first year without improvement since 2014, according to the J.D. Power 2019 U.S. Initial Quality StudySM (IQS). Despite matching last year’s best-ever overall initial quality industry average of 93 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100), only 13 of 31 brands ranked in the study improve their initial quality performance, while 18 decline.

It’s notable, however, that for a second straight year, three South Korean brands—Genesis, Kia, and Hyundai—advance again in U.S. new-vehicle initial quality rankings and earn six of 22 segment awards for models with the fewest problems. Ford, Lincoln, and Chevrolet round out the top six in the nameplate rankings.

2019 U.S. Initial Quality Study photo

Now in its 32nd year, J.D. Power’s annual IQS measures problems experienced by original buyers and lessees of 2019 model-year vehicles during the first 90 days of ownership. The study covers 233 potential design and defect/malfunction problems grouped into eight categories, with lower problem incidence indicating higher quality.

In summing up the 2019 IQS findings, Dave Sargent, Vice President of Global Automotive at J.D. Power, said, “Automakers continue to make progress in areas like infotainment. Some traditional problems, however, crept up this year including paint imperfections, brake and suspension noises, engines not starting, and the ‘check engine’ light coming on early in the first months of ownership.” He adds that more owners are having issues with their advanced driver-assistance systems, which is “critical to building consumer trust in future automated vehicles.”

Gap Between Korean Brands and Others Continues to Widen

Remarkably, 16 of 18 models from Hyundai Motor Co. rank among the top three in their respective vehicle segments. These Korean-brand vehicles tend to have fewer problems with infotainment systems and other electronic components.

Five U.S.-based brands performing above industry average are: Ford (83 PP100), Lincoln (84), Chevrolet (85), Dodge (90), and Buick (91). Dodge improves most among U.S. brands.

All 10 European brands are below industry average, and the largest gaps for these brands are in infotainment systems and other electronics.

The Porsche 911 again achieves the best overall initial quality score of 58 PP100 in this year’s study, despite an increase in reported problems from 2018.

The 2019 IQS finds that quality improves across just three of eight problem categories. Infotainment problems are decreasing, although the problem category remains among the most challenging. Improvements are led by fewer problems with voice recognition and Bluetooth.

Issues with driver-assistance systems are rising as more models, especially premium models, are equipped with increasingly complex systems. The average problem incidence for luxury brands is 6.1 PP100—up from 5.1 PP100 in 2018—while the average for mass-market brands is 3.5 PP100.

Genesis, Kia, Hyundai Retain Front-Runner Status

Genesis ranks highest among all nameplates again and improves its top-quality ranking by 5 PP100 to 63 PP100, while Kia (70) and Hyundai (71) also improve to rank second and third, respectively. Of note, it is the fifth consecutive year that Kia is the highest-ranking mass-market brand. Ford (83) ranks fourth and Lincoln (84) is fifth, marking a first for both Ford Motor Co. brands to rank among the top five in the same year. Chevrolet ranks sixth at 85 PP100.

Land Rover is the most improved brand with owners experiencing 37 fewer PP100 than in 2018. Stablemate Jaguar also improves its score by 18 PP100, while Dodge and Volvo each improve by 8 PP100.

This year, the parent corporation receiving the most awards is Hyundai Motor Co. (six), followed by General Motors (five), BMW AG (three), Ford Motor Co. (two), and Nissan Motor Co. (two).

At the segment level, Hyundai Motor has six models that rank highest in their respective segments: Genesis G70; Hyundai Santa Fe; Kia Forte; Kia Rio; Kia Sedona; and Kia Sportage.

General Motors’ highest-ranked models in five segments are the Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Equinox, Chevrolet Malibu (in a tie), Chevrolet Silverado HD, and the Chevrolet Tahoe.

BMW Group models ranking highest in three segments are the BMW 2 Series, BMW X4, and Mini Cooper.

Ford Motor’s two highest-ranked models in respective segments are the Ford Fusion (in a tie) and Ford Ranger.

Nissan Motor’s models to earn awards are the Nissan Maxima and Nissan Titan.

Other models that rank highest in their respective segments are the Dodge Challenger, Lexus RX, and the Mercedes-Benz CLS.

The Initial Quality Study also recognizes vehicle assembly plants worldwide for producing models with the fewest defects/malfunctions. In the 2019 IQS, Toyota’s Cambridge North plant in Ontario, Canada, which builds the Toyota Corolla, receives the top Platinum Award for building cars with the fewest defects in 2019 (plant quality awards are based solely on defects and malfunctions, and exclude design-related problems).

Consumer Tips

Based on the study, J.D. Power offers the following consumer tips:

  • When shopping for a new vehicle, it’s helpful to recognize which models offer the most satisfying early ownership experience as initial quality is a significant predictor of long-term durability.
  • Be cognizant of how long a vehicle has been in dealer inventory or on the lot to avoid problems such as exterior wear, weak battery, and rough starts.
  • Technology issues are among the most problematic. Pay attention to advanced driver-assistance systems in a new vehicle and have the dealer explain and demonstrate these features during test drives and at the time of delivery.

About the Study

The 2019 U.S. Initial Quality Study is based on responses from 76,256 new-vehicle purchasers and lessees of new 2019 model-year vehicles surveyed after the first 90 days of ownership. The study was fielded in February-May 2019. Findings provide initial quality information for consumers and supply data and analysis for manufacturers to identify problems and make improvements.

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