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JD Power quality survey: Alfa Romeo takes top spot

<i>Stellantis</i><br/>2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale front (European spec shown).
2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale front (European spec shown).

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN Business

(CNN) — JD Power’s Initial Quality report, released last week, contained a huge surprise. The top-quality luxury brand wasn’t frequent winner Lexus, a brand famous for ranking at the top of such surveys. This time it was Alfa Romeo, an Italian car with a reputation for excitement – but not necessarily trouble-free ownership.

That’s great news for anyone thinking of buying a sporty Italian car, but it’s also part of a larger turnaround involving a number of auto brands.

The only two non-luxury auto brands that beat out Alfa Romeo in the overall rankings were, like Alfa, part of Stellantis, the automaker created from the merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and France’s PSA in 2021. In fact, every Stellantis brand rose in the survey even as the overall industry did worse, a testament to processes their new parent company created to boost what had generally been low scores in such surveys.

For car shoppers, this means that brands you may have avoided in the past might now be far better than you’ve long thought. Ranked by “problems per 100 vehicles,” Stellantis’s Dodge came out on top; Ram, its US truck brand, ranked second. Alfa Romeo leaped 24 places in the rankings to third overall, with 143 problems per 100 vehicles. In fact, even as scores went down for the industry as a whole, every Stellantis brand rose in the rankings compared to last year.

Not every Stellantis brand ranked near the top, though, or even close. Chrysler improved from dead last in 2022 to second to last among auto brands with sufficient survey data for an official score. But, this year, Chrysler was the only Stellantis brand with a score below the industry average. Last year, four Stellantis brands, including Ram and Alfa Romeo, were below average.

JD Power’s influential Initial Quality Study, which surveys owners in the first 3 months of ownership, doesn’t just measure things that actually went wrong or broke. It also considers as “problems” things that customers just don’t like even if they’re working fine.

One reason for that is that customers expect more of their vehicles these days than just a lack of outright failure, said Kristin Kolodge, vice president of auto benchmarking at JD Power. Second, it can sometimes be hard for an owner to tell whether something is broken or just poorly designed, especially with complicated tech features.

When it comes to things that are just clearly broken, Alfa Romeo actually ranked best in the industry overall, not just among luxury brands, she said.

The quality improvements came from the two merged companies combining the best practices of each to find and quickly eliminate problems, said David McDonald, head of customer experience for Stellantis in North America.

In Alfa Romeo’s case, one of the biggest steps was reducing the number of different versions and option combinations available for each product, said Larry Dominique, senior vice president for Alfa Romeo in North America.

“We drove down from hundreds of thousands of combinations of Stelvios and Giulias to less than 2,000 of each,” he said.

That greatly reduces challenges for the factory in ensuring the quality of each vehicle built.

Other analysts measure quality differently, so you won’t see such big improvements everywhere. Consumer Reports, for instance, surveys its own subscribers about how often things need to be fixed on their vehicles and it rates different models based on an average of the past three years’ results. Even if Alfa Romeo has improved enormously, it will be a long while before those scores changes much.

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