Japan auto quality sinks below industry average

Japanese autos below industry average

After years of setting the standard for quality and reliability, Japanese brand autos have dropped below the industry average, according to a new report by J.D. Power and Associates.

The latest Initial Quality Study, which ranks brands based on consumer surveys after owning a vehicle for three months, shows the collective results of Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Subaru are not keeping pace with the industry as a whole and the Korean auto brands, in particular.

"It's not that the Japanese models are all getting worse, but this shows they are not improving as fast as their competitors," said Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. automotive quality at J.D. Power. "This is a clear shift in the quality landscape."

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Leading the way in quality, according to J.D. Power, are the Korean auto brands. They improved their results by 11 percent compared to last year, easily ahead of the auto industry's overall rate of improvement, which was 3 percent.

Their relentless pursuit of eliminating problems is paying off, Stephens said.

"The Korean automakers are focused on getting it right from the design process up front all the way through to the plants and with finished models," she said.

The study validates the decision Hyundai and Kia made a few years ago to slow global expansion to ensure the quality of their vehicles did not slip. At the time, many in the industry openly asked if the Korean automakers were missing out on boosting sales by not adding more assembly plants around the world.

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"Look at their plants around the world, especially in Korea, and you see they [are] very focused on quality," Stephens said.

As for the European and U.S. automakers, both improved about 3 percent year over year.

For the domestic automakers, the Ford and Lincoln brands both cut the number of problems reported in their vehicles. Meanwhile, the Chevrolet and Buick brands both placed within the top 11 brands and showed fewer problems per 100 vehicles than the industry average.

Japanese automakers falling behind their peers

This report will have some asking if the Japanese automakers, who for years have been considered the gold standard for quality, have lost focus and are now slipping.

Stephens said the Japanese automakers are still improving, but have been hurt by the incorporation of infotainment and voice recognition systems in new models.

"They really falter in that area," she said. "Sixteen of the bottom 20 models when it comes to problems with voice recognition systems are Japanese brands."

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