New vehicle quality is at its highest level ever, improving a significant 8% from last year, according to the JD Power 2017 US Initial Quality Study.

Initial quality in this iconic study is measured by the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles (PP100) during the first 90 days of ownership, with a lower score reflecting higher quality. In this year's study, quality improved across seven of the eight categories measured, with 27 of the 33 brands in the study improving their quality compared with 2016.

"Automotive manufacturers are responding to consumer feedback and producing vehicles of the highest quality," said Dave Sargent, vice president, global automotive at JD Power. "The industry has improved significantly in each of the past three years. Today's vehicles have more things that could go wrong but fewer things that actually do go wrong."

Key findings

  • Technology improving but still problematic: Audio/communication/entertainment/navigation (ACEN) remained the area where new vehicle owners experienced the most problems. However, this category showed the most improvement since 2016 with a score of 22.8 PP100, or 2.7 PP100 better than last year.
  • Early warning bells for autonomous technology: The only category to worsen this year was features, controls and displays. The largest increases in problems were for cruise control (primarily adaptive cruise); lane departure warning; collision avoidance/alert systems; and blind spot warning. These features comprise some of the building blocks of autonomous vehicles, and an increasing number of consumer-reported problems sounds warning bells for automakers and suppliers. Consumers will need to be convinced that these systems are foolproof before they will give up driving control to autonomous vehicles.
  • Domestic brands continued to show improvement: The 'Detroit Three' outperformed import brands for the second year in a row but for only the third time since the study was first published in 1987. In 2017, domestic brands received a score of 93 PP100 compared with 99 PP100 for import brands. Last year, domestic brands also had fewer problems (103 PP100) compared with import brands (106 PP100).

"The initial quality study continues to demonstrate the critical importance of automakers responding to consumer feedback regarding vehicle quality," Sargent said. "Any automaker that stands still will quickly start to fall behind. For consumers, the great news is that significant improvements are occurring in all model segments, meaning that you don't have to spend a lot of money to get a quality vehicle."

Highest ranked brands

Kia ranked highest in overall initial quality for a second consecutive year with a score of 72 PP100.

Genesis (77 PP100) was second overall followed by Porsche (78 PP100). Ford and Ram (86 PP100) tied for fourth.

Mini was the most improved brand, with owners reporting 33 PP100 fewer problems than in 2016. Other brands with strong improvement included Ram (28 PP100 improvement), Acura (19), Volvo (18) and Ford (16).

Segment leading models

The parent company receiving the most model level awards for its various brands was Hyundai Motor (five model level awards), followed by General Motors and BMW, each with four.

  • Hyundai Motor models that ranked highest in their respective segments were the Kia Cadenza; Forte; Niro; Sorento; and Soul.
  • General Motors models that ranked highest in their segments were the Chevrolet Silverado; Silverado HD; Sonic; and GMC Terrain.
  • BMW models that ranked highest in their segments were the BMW 2 Series; 4 Series; X6; and Mini Cooper.

Other models that ranked highest in their respective segments were the Chrysler Pacifica; Ford Expedition; Ford Mustang; Infiniti QX80; Lexus GS; Mercedes-Benz GLA; Nissan Frontier; Porsche 911; Porsche Macan; and Toyota Camry.

Plant quality awards

Toyota Motor's Kyushu 2 plant (Japan), which produces the Lexus ES and RX, received the platinum plant quality award for producing models with the fewest defects or malfunctions. Plant quality awards are based solely on defects and malfunctions and exclude design-related problems. General Motors' Fort Wayne (Indian) plant, which produces the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, received the gold plant quality award for the Americas region, while Porsche's Leipzig plant, which produces the Porsche Cayenne and Macan, received the gold plant quality award for the Europe/Africa region.

The US Initial Quality Study was based on responses from nearly 80,000 purchasers and lessees of new 2017 model year vehicles who were surveyed after 90 days of ownership. The study was based on a 233 question battery organised into eight problem categories designed to provide manufacturers with information to facilitate the identification of problems and drive product improvement. The study was fielded from February through May 2017.