Kia is the first “non-premium” brand in 27 years to top J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study, the best at manufacturing problem-free new cars, and the only non-premium automaker to have fewer than 90 reported problems per 100 new vehicles.
What does all that mean for someone in the market for a new car? For starters, if you want a vehicle with the fewest issues during the first 90 days of ownership, you’d be wise to consider looking at Kias. In fact, other than Porsche, which barely edged out Kia in last year’s study and finally lost its throne this year, no carmaker is even in Kia’s league for initial quality.
While Kia’s rise to the top of the quality heap grabbed headlines, the South Korean brand’s improvement relative to luxury brands heralded a larger trend in the IQS study: the rise of non-premium brands in quality. For the first time since 2006, non-premium brands have fewer problems on average than premium brands. Which begs the question: what’s so “premium” about quality issues within the first 90 days?
This also marks Kia’s second-straight year atop J.D. Power’s non-premium rankings, after its second-place overall finish in 2015.
How did Kia, which was a company on the brink in the late-90s, vault all of its competition in quality in just 20 years? As a Fortune article published in the wake of last year’s IQS results put it, 1998 saw Kia and sister-company Hyundai enact “a consistent and dedicated corporate directive to place quality before all else.”
This strategy was a dramatic shift for any Korean company; for decades, the model for a Korean company trying to break through to the American market was to focus on quantity, not quality. It was actually Samsung’s success, which the Korean electronics company managed by shifting its focus to reliability and superior build-quality, that encouraged Kia and Hyundai to attack the challenge of building affordable, stylish, reliable cars with what TrueCar president John Krafcik describes as a “laser-like focus.”
We’re proud of Kia. The Butler family of dealerships has been selling cars for 40 years, and we’ve never seen a rise in quality and design like what we’ve seen Kia and Hyundai (which finished third in IQS for the second year in a row) over the past decade. It’s a privilege to sell and repair service vehicles you believe in and stand behind, and we feel privileged to have hitched our wagon to companies that listen to our customers’ needs.