The Simplicity factor: How Kia Topped the JD Powers Quality Ratings

This is really interesting, and I think really important for early 21st-century mass-market brands.

The JD Powers Initial Quality Survey is widely watched in the automotive industry for trends in how many people who actually bought cars had problems with them in the first 90 days after the purchase. This is believed to be a very high factor in brand loyalty.

Most years, industry analysis of the survey looks for things like US brands versus imports, and specific engineering issues.

Last year, Porsche topped the list, and in 30 years, only one non-premium brand had been at the top: Toyota. Once.

And this year, Kia came in number one. Really surprising.

But as analysts started to dig deeper into the responses what they found was that it was The nontransportation features that were dragging the premium brands down. The entertainment system, GPS system, voice control, Geo presence, etc.

And the customer complaints dealt with features that were difficult to use, nonintuitive and lacking discoverability, or didn’t meet expectations set by the marketing. Most of them were not actual defects, although there were some reliability issues.

Kia hit the top of the list by not offering most of those features, and by making the ones that they did offer intuitive and reliable.

As a whole, nonpremium brands topped premium brands for the first time in a decade, Stephens said. Overall, nonpremium gains were driven by a “simplification” in technology features, she said.


The Simplicity Factor in IOT

In IOT, we see this most clearly with the success of the Phillips hue bridge. It doesn’t do that much. But what it does it does very reliably and largely intuitively. When combined with echo, another device that puts simplicity first, it gives customers features that they don’t have without it, but in a nearly maintenance free design.

( All of this put together is why I’ve often said I personally would be happy if the Smart TV-based version of SmartThings had fewer features than the hub, as long as the features that it did have were useful and the system as a whole was reliable and easy to use. I know other people will expect much more, I’m just saying I myself don’t really need all that much in order to be really happy with home automation. )

IOS 10 and HomeKit: the Simplicity Factor Again?

I’ve been digging into the details of the new HomeKit announcement for iOS 10, and I’m fascinated by the fact that the four new device categories are cameras, video doorbells, humidifiers, and air purifiers. Yet they still don’t have a battery-operated contact sensor or motion sensor that can trigger other events.

While it’s true that a video doorbell or a security camera is a much more complicated device than a simple contact sensor, The use cases for the first two actually tend to be much simpler. And the conditionals for them are typically built into the device itself.

So if we look at the four new HomeKit device categories, we can see some commonalities. They are expensive devices with reasonable profit margins, so the manufacturers can afford to do some customer support. They have straightforward use cases. (No one has to ask for ideas about what to do with a humidifier.) They are either mains-powered or have lots of battery power – – these are not low energy devices. They often benefit from Geopresence. If they would benefit from sensors, the more expensive models typically have their own sensors built in, whether it’s a motion sensor for a camera or a humidity sensor for a humidifier.

It looks like HomeKit with IOS 10 is looking to nail a few simple use case categories:

  1. Voice control and voice status (which so far echo does not have as a native feature) of lights, locks, HVAC equipment, window coverings, and somewhat for security cameras.

  2. simple reliable time-based schedules for lights, HVAC equipment, and window coverings, with an easy way to temporarily pause any schedule.

  3. simple reliable Geopresence controls for multiple locations (so HomeKit knows when you leave the office as well as when you get home) for lights, locks, HVAC equipment, and window coverings.

And that’s pretty much it. It’s going to be a limited set of use cases. No modes. No stacked conditionals. And when you think about it, not really any new device classes. You will have a smarter light switch, a smarter thermostat, a smarter humidifier. But if you didn’t have motion sensors in your home before you brought HomeKit, there’s no real reason for you to buy them when you do get HomeKit.

HomeKit is going to have many fewer features, and many fewer device classes, then SmartThings or classic Insteon or Lowe’s Iris. It remains to be seen whether Apple can nail reliability and discoverability, but with IOS 10 it definitely looks like that’s what they’re aiming for.

Getting this approach right was much of the reason for the Phillips hue success. You just bought lightbulbs. Plus one controller piece. They were much smarter lightbulbs, but they were still just lightbulbs.

And clearly this fits into the Kia example. It’s the simplicity factor. The system that doesn’t do as much doesn’t have as many points of vulnerability and is perceived as higher quality by the person who actually spent the money on it, Which builds brand loyalty.

When Less is More?

A lot of people criticize apple and say that they often just copy features that other companies pioneered. That’s not always true, but it is true for a lot of features. However, the important thing to note is that when Apple picks up a feature that’s already been out in the market for a year or two, they often strip it down to the options that they can deliver with very high discoverability and reliability. The simplicity factor is part of the “just works” calculation.

anyway, I was way wrong as far as what home automation options would be available in the summer of 2016. Seriously wrong. I thought HomeKit was going to come out with something that had features equivalent to classic Insteon, that would be plug-and-play, and that that would drive other companies to come out with similar home automation offerings in the under $5000 price range. It didn’t happen.

And with the details of iOS 10, it seems very clear that it’s not going to happen. HomeKit will offer many many fewer features than classic Insteon. But what they’re going to offer will be simple, practical, intuitive, and presumably they’re aiming for reliable.

We’ll have to see what actually gets delivered by the end of the year, but if HomeKit ends up being a success just by offering a somewhat smarter home, rather then a truly smart home, it’s going to have a really interesting impact on the industry.

JMO :sunglasses:


Great points, JD.

And at the risk of sounding spammy, “simplicity” is a big reason why users find SmartTiles to be useful, and why we are spending so much time on our next generation to make it much easier to use while concurrently allowing more features to be added.

It’s a challenge for any product. SmartThings certainly has that in their vision. Really!


Not wanting to start yet another Topic today … thought I’d share this particular piece of news regarding iControl (the owner of Piper and a major white-label brander of HA systems).

They’ve been split-acquired by Comast and

Getting your HA through your cable / broadband company has always been an interesting path from a “simplicity” viewpoint; as is combining your professionally monitored home security company with HA.

(iControl is also the system behind PEQ and several others…).

In total, Icontrol says it manages more than 36 million connected devices across its services.


I noticed a lot of their competitors got caught cheating on emissions testing. When the top players are thrown out of the game, the second string gets the trophies.

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The split is really interesting too. Piper (which has the zwave piece) is going to Comcast is keeping the pieces that it needs for its monthly subscription service.

It raises a bunch of questions for the future of Piper: will it still be available as a stand-alone device? Will it still be sold through retail channels? In other words, does it become the initial buy which then encourages people to add monitoring? Or is it just a camera/Z wave addon to a monthly service?

And, obviously, does Comcast have any interest in zwave for Xfinity home?

I think the acquisition does fit into the whole simplicity theme as well. As simple as piper is, it’s way more complicated than most people want to use. Many will pay a monthly fee to have somebody else doing the maintenance.

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That was a separate issue from what this particular survey measures, though. This has to do with the number of warranty complaints from consumers in the first 90 days after the purchase.

The emissions issues didn’t factor into that, as you can tell from the drill downs about what the complaints specified. In most cases, the emissions cheating made the cars run better from the customer experience point of view.


Not to derail the simplicity factor discussion too much – I bought Piper through their Kickstart (Indeigogo??) campaign. Piper is great at marketing but IMO has not delivered.

  • Motion detection is poor – currently less than 15 feet.
  • The Classic’s Z-wave integration has been very unsatisfactory and is not compatible with most Z-wave products and Z-wave Plus. It took 4 months to get a simple GE lighting module to turn on a lamp so the camera could have enough light to record. It was another 2-3 months to get a simple GE/Schalge z-wave certified contact sensor able to pair. Of course I could have paid $50 for their approved one.
  • App / SMS notification is slow.
  • The free but limited Cloud storage is nice.

On the plus side, finally I’ve been able to use IFTTT to arm & disarm it but at this point, its really a standalone short range indoor camera with a real short cord.

Piper is a simple and very limited product. You pay for the simplicity – a plug and play motion detector/camera/environmental monitoring system that is expandable but only by adding other complete Piper units. Going beyond that, even with choosing from its limited selection of devices, is what makes it complicated. As it is not truly an open system, it may be a good add-on for a semi-monitored proprietary alarm system for

In the same vein on simplicity, I agree with @JDRoberts. I expect HomeKit will find a niche with folks looking for that it just works experience - lights on, change the temp, change my Apple TV enabled media, etc - by close integration with individual device apps.

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This is a classic example of looking at the wrong data!

NONE of the 25 winners of IHS Loyalty awards were Kia. None.

What this tells us is that satisfaction (usually Porsche takes #1, Jeep pretty low) is not tightly coupled to repeat purchasing (two Jeeps on the list.)

Let’s put this another way… I have a special-ordered heavily-modified Audi S4. Manual tranny, custom colors, special gauges, etc. It’s my fourth special-ordered Audi. And three of the four haven’t really “satisfied” me. This one burns the clutch, is expensive to maintain and lacks A2DP (but can do phone voice audio wonderfully.) And was a lot of money. But my next car will likely be an Audi too, because nothing is nicer inside or faster, and while a Porsche can out-handle it, the Porsche lacks the comfort and the space. Meanwhile, if I had purchased a Suby BRZ at 1/3 or so the price, I’d be more satisfied with what I got… with lower expectations… but I wouldn’t buy another Suby because I’d want to move up in the world to something faster, more comfortable, better for long road trips with more features.

I’m very satisfied with how my Decora wall switch functions, but instead I’ve automated, at a much higher price, and am dissatisfied that SmartThings can’t reliably remember to trigger them.

Yes, that’s to be expected.

This is the first year the Kia has topped the JD Powers list. If the theory previously mentioned is true, that fewer complaints in the first 90 days after ownership helps build brand loyalty (detailed in the JD Powers link at the end of this post), It wouldn’t make any sense for Kia to be winning brand loyalty awards based on 2014 data, as the link you provided listed.

The awards you referred to

The Automotive Loyalty Awards recognize automotive manufacturers and brands for customer retention and conquest efforts during the 2015 model year (October 2014-September 2015).

The list that Kia topped:

The 2016 U.S. Initial Quality Study is based on responses from more than 80,000 purchasers and lessees of new 2016 model-year vehicles surveyed after 90 days of ownership. The study was fielded from February through May 2016.

If there is a positive effect, it should show up beginning about three years from now, when the first of the new owners in the 2016 JD power survey are again looking for replacement vehicles.

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Oops, you hit the spot of my next favorite brand, which happens to also be Korean, you can guess on my most favorite brand -:slight_smile: Anyway, while Kia’s advantage is simplicity, it doesn’t come from a reduced number of features, but from a premium design concept that offers everything Audi offers, in a simplistic, easy to use manner, which neither Toyota nor Honda was able to do. It’s all about design and management. It’s fully loaded, offers a great price and has high reliability. It’s like Control4 at SmartThings’ price. Hmmm. Here is a good idea for the IoT industry. Offer reliabilty, plenty of features and you will top everyone’s expectations. Oh and by the way Kia’s design is so much like Audi, because the concept comes from an ex Audi designer.

Zats too funny. If @JDRoberts is an example of looking at the wrong data, your post is a classic example of personal bias.

Both can be true. After all, I’ve already copped to four custom-ordered Audis, the last one heavily modified. @JDRoberts is one of my favorite forum members based on writings, style, insight, but I reserve the right to be both biased toward Audis and his writings and disagree with a specific analysis.


You made a very good point that “increases the likelihood” isn’t the same as saying there’s a perfect correlation. There are lots of reasons for brand loyalty, and different ones have different weight for different people. :sunglasses:

I should probably have also included the direct link to JD Powers, where they detail this further:

High Quality = High Loyalty: Expected reliability remains the most important consideration when purchasing a new vehicle, cited by 49% of owners. J.D. Power has studied consumer behavior from when they purchase or lease their new vehicle through when they are back in the market for their next vehicle in order to measure the impact initial quality has on brand loyalty.[1]
Among owners who experience no problems with their vehicle in the first 90 days, 54% stay with the same brand for their next vehicle. Loyalty drops to 50% among owners who experience one problem with their vehicle and to 45% among those who experience three or more problems.
“There is a direct correlation between the number of problems a customer has with their new vehicle and the decisions they make when it comes time to purchase or lease their next car or truck,” said Stephens. “While a small drop in actual loyalty may not sound like much, a percentage point drop in share can mean millions of dollars in lost revenue to an automaker.”

So there’s a statistically significant difference, but it’s not an absolute predictor.

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Ah, but as Joan Rivers would say, “let’s talk” Those numbers don’t hold up.

Ford, never really a paragon of reliability, held the loyalty crown at 60% for years, until replaced by… GM, still not reliable.

The average loyalty rate is 52.8%, which would imply that more than half of owners have zero problems in the first 90 days… rendering other factors far more differentiating.

My opinion (which is the same as bias :wink: ) is that JD Powers exists to sell their ratings, and so are not incentivized for accuracy so much as for the ability to sell to clients - Ford, GM, apparently Kia - who would pay to mention them in advertisements.

Don’t get me wrong… I have purchased a new Ford back when JD Powers rated it very highly. It was every bit as reliable as the newest home automation technology from Kia’s neighbor, Samsung.

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Ha, I went through 2 A4s and an A6, before I switched to Avalon ans settled for Cadenza. I am very happy with Kia. If you were to give me a Kia for free couple of years ago, I would probably refused it. But they really changed my opinion. So I wouldn’t be surprised if they knock Toyota down off the podium soon.

I have a Lexus IS250 AWD and love it… my wife is on her 3rd Kia Sportage and I get them winning satisfaction rating. They are pretty nice cars. Nothing fancy or over the top but to many comments here they are simple, intuitive and packed with features. Hell her Kia does a few things I wish my Lexus did. She just got the 2017 Sportage and it has wifi presence sensing, highly programmable controls, and auto braking. As always there is a question of cost vs value. With Kia (and even Hyundia their sister company) the bang for the buck is pretty big. So it make sense when they do well in satisfaction surveys. People are pretty happy with what they get for what they spend.

As for ST I think the KISS method should always be in play. Simple and intuitive should be the goal always. Now if you ask if I am satisfied with ST I would have to say yes… Could it be better? Of course but this is my first HA and when look to see if there is something better (and simple) out there I am not finding it. So for now I am satisfied!

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Just for clarity: the JD Powers survey is not a subjective satisfaction report. It’s just the number of warranty claims that people made in the first 90 days after purchase. And it’s not a measure of overall engineering quality.

That’s why all of the various things that people have said about satisfaction can be true.

The part that’s relevant to this forum is that new owners had a high number of help requests just for the non-transportation components: the entertainment system, GPS, voice control, etc. And that a number of those complaints turned out not to be things that were actually malfunctioning, but rather features that the customers couldn’t figure out how to use, or where their expectations based on marketing were different than what the feature actually delivered.

So don’t think of this as an analysis of the car’s quality. Rather it’s an analysis of what type of questions the customer service helpline received. That’s why it has cross industry interest. :sunglasses:

My S.O. has a BMW 335i-xDrive. Not quite as fancy as my Audi S4 (Prestige), but nice car. But the control system is so convoluted that even though she’s had it for several years, we often have to struggle to figure out how to get it to play the iPod vs Bluetooth phone, or to zoom the navigation, or other simple stuff.

But it’s a blast to drive, comfortable, fast, better looking than my car, and reliable. Just not at all ergonomic in some ways.

BTW, I used this analogy in another thread, but the more I think about it, the more I like it, so I’m going to add it here as well. :wink:

I think what HomeKit may be aimed at is something more like this:

rather than this:

That is, add some wheels and a long handle to a suitcase and you’ve added a lot of functionality, very intuitive to use, and highly reliable if engineered correctly.

You don’t have to go all the way to a robot butler to deliver value. :sunglasses:

Have to say I can not knock Kia. My sister bought one few years ago and literally drove it until it couldn’t go anymore with 310,000 miles with no major motor or trans problem have to say that’s pretty reliable. She nows has traded that in on new one. My oldest daughter bought a Kia car which current has 290,00 miles with no major failures. She in turned still has it but has purchased a new one for everyday driving. And this lead my other 2 daughters to purchase Kias. With my experience with them they have been very reliable.