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Come-from-behind Kia takes No. 2 position in initial quality study

When Kia first began selling its cars in the U.S. in 1995, they sold mainly because they were cheap. Quality and reliability? Not exactly a Kia car's forte'.

That has changed, if this year's J.D. Power Initial Quality Study is any indication. Kia owners reported fewer problems in the first 90 days of ownership than any other brand, save No. 1 Porsche.

In another flip-flop, many Japanese brands fell below the industry average for the first time since J.D. Power began tracking initial quality 29 years ago.

Nissan, Mazda, Scion, Acura, Mitsubishi, and Subaru ranked below the average.

Fiat Chrysler continues to struggle in the study. While its Ram truck brand was above the industry average, the Fiat brand was dead last, and Chrysler brand cars ranked third from the bottom.

Now, keep in mind, initial quality has dramatically improved for the whole industry, especially in the last 10 years.

It wasn't that unusual two decades ago for a car to have two, three or more reported problems in the first 90 days. Since then, every company in the industry has upped its game. 

This year, the worst performer, Fiat, reported only 1.6 problems per vehicle.

And, in more good news, the problems that consumers are reporting nowadays are much less likely to be actual mechanical defects, like engine problems or doors that don't shut properly.

The No.1 type of problem reported in 2015 was issues with connectivity and entertainment systems, such as voice recognition or Bluetooth pairing.

Consumers are also bothered by some of the new fuel-saving technologies being introduced, like the eight and nine-speed transmissions in some Fiat Chrysler vehicles.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.