• Volkswagen Passat
• Kia Optima
• Honda Accord
Source: J.D. Power
In what's likely the most competitive U.S. car segment - in which nearly every automaker plays and many excel - the Chattanooga-made Volkswagen Passat is king for 2013.
A new J.D. Power study of recent buyers and leasees scored the Passat above all midsize sedans.
"It's a really good endorsement of the vehicle," said Volkswagen of America spokesman Mark Gillies. "J.D. Power has good standing in the industry."
Passat's midsize competitors include the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Kia Optima and Chevrolet Malibu among others.
The J.D. Power Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout Study examines how rewarding a new vehicle is to own and drive based on owner evaluations of 77 attributes.
The study gathered responses between February and May 2013 from more than 83,000 purchasers and leasees of new model-year cars and trucks who were surveyed after the first 90 days of ownership.
Passat garnered five of a possible five "power circle rankings" in overall performance and design, according to J.D. Power. It rated three of five circles in overall quality. Its lowest ranking was two of five circles in reliability.
The J.D. Power finding follows the Motor Trend Car of the Year Award for 2012 for the Passat, which was totally redesigned by the German carmaker for American motorists.
Aaron Bragman, Detroit bureau chief for Cars.com, said Passat sales are about 10,000 a month, which is a big improvement from the old vehicle which was selling about that many a year in the U.S. just before the redesign.
He said the vehicle's sales growth is at a healthy level. To exceed the current figure, VW may have to offer new incentives and refresh it even more, Bragman said.
"It's still new to a lot of customers," he said. "The next generation may be more appealing."
Bragman said that for Hyundai's midsize Sonata, for example, it took a couple of generations for sales to take off.
However, Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends and insights for TrueCar.com, said there's not always a connection between awards and sales, but the J.D. Power citation helps.
"If you're undecided within the segment and had heard the Passat won, it might tilt sales a little bit," he said.
The segment is "very competitive and it's hard to stand out," Toprak said.
While Passat sales are expected to be up in 2013, the VW plant laid off about 500 temporary workers this spring after figures weren't as strong as predictions. Still, more than 2,400 people work at the plant.
Gillies said VW potentially may use the J.D. Power study in its new marketing of Passat.
"It's something that would be under discussion," he said.
In terms of brands, VW's Porsche was top-ranked in the study for the ninth consecutive year. VW premium brand Audi moved into second place, from fourth the prior year.
Volkswagen was 14th in the survey, the highest ranked nonpremium passenger-car brand.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.