Saturday, June 23, 2018

You’ve come a long way, Hyundai (and Kia and Genesis): Unprecedented J.D. Power findings rank 3 Korean automakers at the top of the quality scale.

A red 1986 Hyundai Pony
Photographed in the UK, this 1986 Hyundai Pony is an example of
the model that Hyundai marketed in the U.S. as the first-generation Excel.
Photo by Charles01 (posted in Wikimedia Commons).
If you’re old enough to have been around and aware in 1985 when the first-generation Hyundai Excels started arriving in the U.S with a bargain-basement sticker price of $4,995—incredible even then for a brand new car—you’re well aware of what a long way Korean automakers have come in the last 30 years. 

While the ability to buy a new car for such a low price was appealing enough to consumers to drive sales beyond the 1 million units milestone by 1986, the lifespan of that first generation was a rough period of time for Hyundai as they worked to gain a foothold in the U.S. market with their single-model, entry-level offering.

Plagued with issues such as carburetor problems and generally poor powertrain durability, the first-generation Hyundai quickly developed a serious image problem that was coming close to rivaling the infamous Yugo as the worst car on the market during 80s.

Wisely, Hyundai turned to a partnership with Mitsubishi to help solve their quality problems. Though built in Hyundai facilities in South Korea, the second generation Excel, which ditched the sluggish and inefficient carbureted motor in favor of fuel injection, was essentially a badge-engineered Mitsubishi Precis when it hit the market for the 1990 model year. The Dodge Colt of the era was also built on the same platform.

While such a change might seem unremarkable from today’s perspective, this was the beginning of Hyundai’s turnaround. Even the notoriously nit-picky Consumer Reports began to give the 1990 Hyundai Excel decent ratings in many categories, going so far as describing the car’s brakes as “Excellent.” It was a virtual 180-degree turnaround from how Consumer Reports had rated the first-generation Excel.

Not long afterward, Hyundai began rolling out more up-line offerings like the Elantra and Sonata, and launched their “Hyundai. Yes, Hyundai” marketing campaign to coalesce the message, in a self-deprecatingly humorous way, that they were reaching a new place in their quest for quality. They eventually backed up their commitment to quality with warranty terms that were among the most generous in the industry.

The years of effort that Hyundai, along with fellow (and complexly related) Korean automaker Kia, invested in continuing to improve products, establish credibility, and gain a foothold in the U.S. market have paid off in a big way, with both automakers now well-respected by many U.S. consumers. According to Statista, as of May 2018, Hyundai and Kia together share a nearly 9-percent slice of the U.S. automotive market—a state of affairs that would have been hard to imagine in the midst of Hyundai’s shaky start in the 80s.

The quality gains are also measurable, and one indicator is found in results released this week of the J.D. Power 2018 Initial Quality Study (IQS). In the context of an overall quality improvement of 4 percent over 2017 ratings, Genesis, Hyundai and Kia emerged as the top-ranking brands.

Hyundai-spinoff Genesis scored highest in overall initial quality in J.D. Power’s ranking scheme, followed by Hyundai and Kia. This is the first time that three Korean brands are at the top of the overall ranking, and it is the fourth consecutive year that Kia is the highest-ranking mass-market brand. Trailing behind for the fourth and fifth positions in the quality race were Porsche and Ford, respectively.

Overall, quality across all brands has improved for the fourth consecutive year, increasing by 4 percent compared to 2017, raising the industry to its highest quality level ever, according to J.D. Power.

“There’s no question that most automakers are doing a great job of listening to consumers and are producing vehicle quality of the highest caliber,” said Dave Sargent, Vice President of Global Automotive at J.D. Power. “That said, some vehicle owners are still finding problems. As vehicles become more complex and automated, it is critical that consumers have complete confidence in automakers’ ability to deliver fault-free vehicles.”

The 2018 U.S. Initial Quality Study is based on responses from 75,712 purchasers and lessees of new 2018 model-year vehicles who were surveyed after 90 days of ownership. Further information on automotive quality is available on the J.D. Power website at

1 comment:

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