Back in the '60s and '70s, Fiat didn't exactly have an enviable reputation for quality. Of course, lack of quality and a tarnished brand reputation eventually saw the Italian automaker flee the market, only to return with the 500 and the larger 500L in the last few years. However, if J.D. Power's Initial Quality Survey for 2014 is to be believed, modern Fiat products haven't improved quite as much as we might have hoped. Fiat thinks that there is a very simple explanation for its poor performance on the annual list, though.
J.D. Power's IQS looks at flaws among autos in the first 90 days that customers own their new vehicles. In 2014, Fiat wasn't only dead last, it was at the back of the pack by a significant margin. The company's cars tallied 206 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) compared to a national average of 116 PP100. Even Jeep, the survey's second-to-last finisher, had 146 PP100. Fiat's performance was pitiful.
However, it can all be explained, at least according to US Fiat boss, Jason Stoicevich, who spoke with Ward's Auto. He qualifies the results by stating that the survey came at a particularly bad time for the brand. It produced very few 2014 500 models to allow extra time to introduce the updated 2015 version. That meant that about 91 percent of its vehicles surveyed were examples of the 500L, "which is a new car where there are always quirks to work through," said Stoicevich to Ward's. With only one model providing data, it skewed the results. Of course, that's all well and good, but it suggests that the larger 500L is even more problematic than the overall brand's 206 problems per 100 vehicles.
Of course, we must again note that the "Q" in "IQS" is something of a misnomer. The J.D. Power survey in question doesn't actually only limit its scope to actual defects in product, it also takes into account aspects of a vehicle that may work as designed, but just not in a way that is to its owners satisfaction. Said another way, a cupholder that doesn't hold a Venti from Starbucks is a debatable "quality issue," at least compared to something like a navigation system that regularly freezes, let alone an actual mechanical malady like a stalling issue.
For his part, Stoicevich is promising a major improvement in next year's scores. His employer has to be careful, though. If it keeps having bottom-of-the-barrel initial quality scores, the old joking acronym about Fiat might haunt the brand in the US again.