The just released American Customer Satisfaction Index, based on interviews with over 4,000 recent new car buyers, finds that car buyers are less satisfied this year than last, with the index dropping 1.2% to an industry average of 83%. It’s the first time in two years that a decline in new car buyer satisfaction has been measured, but customer satisfaction is still significantly higher than the index’s 1979 baseline of 79% of customers being satisfied.
The survey measures consumer satisfaction based on quality, purchase price, the dealership experience, and other factors. The authors of the study say that the small drop may ironically be due to past improvements in quality and customer satisfaction.
“Higher levels of customer satisfaction create greater customer expectations that automakers are then challenged to meet — let alone exceed.”
“As the industry has been doing better, particularly since the recession, we’ve seen higher numbers for many nameplates, and certainly for the industry as a whole. That tends to engender higher expectations in customers the next time they make a purchase. That can put a little pinch in customer satisfaction as the automakers are challenged to keep meeting and exceeding those customer expectations.”
While cars in general have been improving, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler still have a way to catch up to the perceived quality of foreign manufacturers. By region, European car companies came in first, with a 84.7% satisfaction, followed by Asian companies at 84.1 and U.S. companies at 82.
Mercedes-Benz led the rankings with a score of 88, up 4% from last year, with Lexus in second place, at 87, down 2% from 2012. The highest ranking non-luxury brands were Subaru, Toyota and Honda, all at 86.
Third-place Subaru, Toyota and Honda — the highest ranking non-luxury nameplates — each scored 86 — 3 points above the industry average. GMC and Cadillac were the highest ranked domestic brands at 85. Ford and Chrysler were each at the industry average of 83, both up more than 5% from last year, the best year to year performance of any brands. Dodge and Chevrolet were in last place with scores of 79. Jeep scored 80. Chevrolet and Buick (which scored 82) had the largest declines, 6%.
The survey unsurprisingly found that recalls affect customer satisfaction. Vehicles that were recalled within the past year averaged 81, 3 points lower than cars not recalled.