Fiat Chrysler may finally have gotten the quality bogey off its back. The company’s Dodge brand just became the first domestic brand ever to rank No. 1 in the highly regarded annual ranking of initial quality by J.D. Power & Associates, tying for the top spot. Dodge leapt seven spots from last year’s results in a key quality indicator that now is 34 years old, analyzing vehicle performance during the first three months of ownership.
Just as significant, Fiat Chrysler’s brands generally fared better in the 2020 J.D. Power rankings after decades of typically bringing up the rear among the Detroit Three automakers and also faring about as poorly as any significant brands in the U.S. market.
The new ranking by J.D. Power represents one of the first signature achievements by Fiat Chrysler under CEO Mike Manley, who succeeded Sergio Marchionne after the latter’s untimely death in July, 2018. Even after Fiat Chrysler improved its product line and its brand architecture over the previous decade to become as profitable as General Motors and Ford, under the late Marchionne, the company had remained constrained by its relatively poor reputation for product quality and by the matching realities in its vehicles.
Overall, Fiat Chrysler’s performance in the 2020 study ranked better than the industry average for the first time in its history. The company surged five spots to a fourth-place finish among the 15 companies assessed by J.D. Power.
Ram rose to a third-place tie in the new J.D. Power rankings from its 21st position last year, on the strength of fresh product: the redesigned Ram 1500 half-ton pickup, and a significantly upgraded lineup of heavy-duty trucks, Fiat Chrysler said. Meanwhile, Jeep jumped six spots to 11th place, its best-ever ranking.
“These results reflect the relentless, whatever-it-takes attitude of our team,” Mark Champine, head of quality for Fiat Chrysler in North America, said in a press release. “Our complete focus is the customer and these outcomes reinforce that we are on-target. The team is going to be inspired and motivated and will continue to push forward.”
Kia tied Dodge for No. 1 in the 2020 survey, making it the sixth consecutive year that Kia is the highest-ranked mass brand. Its sibling Hyundai brand also has done well in the J.D. Power rankings for several years. The brands’ surging performance in IQS has contributed significantly to how Hyundai and Kia have assumed mainstream roles and taken rising shares of the U.S. market over the last decade.
Chevrolet tied with Ram for third place. Genesis — a new luxury brand that spun off from Hyundai — ranked as the best premium brand for the fourth consecutive year in IQS.
Among other things, its stunning rise in J.D. Power’s rankings will give Fiat Chrysler yet another marketing tool in its pitched battle in the U.S. pickup-truck and utility-vehicle markets, where its robust recent performance has boosted the company’s prospects as well as its profitability.
It’s unclear what role Manley will have in a new company if Fiat Chrysler’s proposed merger with French automaking giant proceeds as planned.