By on August 27, 2013


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.


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34 Comments on “New Car Customer Satisfaction Down Slightly, Experts Blame High Quality For High Expectations...”

  • avatar

    Seems pretty meaningless, with only 9 points separating the winner from the loser.

  • avatar

    Actually, looks like the satisfaction gap between the Big 3—Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler—and foreign automakers has widened with the former falling further behind import brands.

  • avatar

    I call BS for two reasons:

    1. If the sample size in only 4,000 for all brands then some of the variation can simply be explained by thew sampling error alone.

    2. Given this modest sample size (and thus higher +/- error rate) and a result that sees the highest and lowest score separate by only 9 points, I would be very careful about claiming that any firm conclusions can be reached from this data.

  • avatar

    My BS call has nothing to do with sampling.

    It’s that customer satisfaction, as stated in the headline, is based on customer expectations.

    Unless an automaker is showing SIGNIFICANT conquest buys, it will only show whether a brand is meeting the expectations of its longtime customers.

    I’d be curious how much turnover there is between not only brands, but between brand categories. I’d expect more between Toyota, Nissan, and Honda than between Toyota, Ford, and Volkswagen, for example.

    This would explain why Hyundai of 10 years ago was pretty close to Honda and BMW. Honda owners will flip out over a panel that’s slightly out of place, or a strange noise. BMW owners expect so many gremlins that they don’t leave food in the car overnight. Hyundai owners expected a car that would at least crank. The cars met their expectations, but there aren’t any objective comparisons to be drawn.

  • avatar

    “…Ford, General Motors and Chrysler still have a way to catch up to the PERCEIVED quality of foreign manufacturers.” (my caps)

    Fire the engineers and hire more PR experts!

    • 0 avatar

      They’ve come along way from where they were in 2009.

      Maybe it is that potential buyers are a lot more critical in their pre-purchase evaluations these days.

      I believe that everyone really interested in buying should do their due diligence beforehand and look at as wide a field of prospectives as they can tolerate. No amount of PR can get around the seat-of-the-pants test drive.

      Once they have narrowed the field down to two or three, then it is time to compare, compare, compare, i.e, what do I get with each for $20K, for $25K, for $30K and so on, depending on class and price bracket?

      IMO, the V6 Mazda6 tops all others in that size and class, but it is a toss-up between Odyssey and Sienna, unless you want AWD.

      In SUV/CUVs, none compares to the venerable Jeep Grand Cherokee with its legendary 4wd in that size and class.

      Trucks? My fave is a Tundra 5.7.

      For those who want to play it short and to the point? See what the best sellers are in each category or class, and go with the flow.

      All those buyers can’t be wrong! But maybe personal tastes differ?

  • avatar

    Can someone explain why Volvo is a) still listed as a Ford subsidiary, and b) grouped with the “dead” GM brands?

    • 0 avatar

      The chart goes back to 1995 when Volvo was still owned by Ford. It’s at the bottom of the chart with other makes that had no models surveyed recently, so no comparison this year over last year could be made.

  • avatar

    As car makers focus more on fuel economy over drivability, I would expect customer satisfaction to take a hit across the board. Bigger, less stressed engines, steering and braking systems with good feel, transmission programming, and NVH characteristics are all at odds with the mighty goverment mandated MPG. Add in the unproven reliability of the new ‘MPG freindly’ technologies and you end up with a generation of cars that are worse than their predecessors…except for the mpg. Kind of like the late 70’s and early 80’s again.

    • 0 avatar

      “Kind of like the late 70′s and early 80′s again.”

      Bingo and thank you.

      Two differences though; that first go-round of destructive MPG-mania didn’t impact the core safety factor of visibility from tall greenhouses.

      And the one good thing they imposed for cumulative fuel savings, the 55 limit, is no longer even discussed as a potential solution by either the government or the public that hates what this iteration of MPG diktat has done to their cars.

      • 0 avatar

        The 55 mph speed limit was the dumbest and most deservedly ignored law since Prohibition. It was anything but a “good thing.” Most people properly ignored it then, and would again ignore it if the government were stupid enough to enact it.

        • 0 avatar

          Nah, it was swell.

          You could smoke a joint and balance a Big Mac & shake while downshifting a 1300 cc Beetle whenever hills came up. Couldn’t even have the Beetle on the road at today’s speeds.

          Or is that not helping my case…?

          • 0 avatar

            Cars have changed drastically, you can do all of that at 80 now.

          • 0 avatar

            No, *you* could maybe. Anything over 70 and I become Beaker having an anxiety attack.

          • 0 avatar

            To be fair I would never, ever eat a Big Mac while I drove, not when the more manageable McDouble is available.

            You’d probably rather be in my car after I’d had that joint than before, otherwise, sounds like you’d need it.

          • 0 avatar

            Ahh… so cleverly have I maneuvered you into supporting my point!

            After smoking we drive more slowly, no? 55 would be quite acceptable, yes?


            Smoke enough weed,
            You won’t need that speed.

            (A public service message from Kenmore’s Groovy Greenhouses)

          • 0 avatar

            Around here, even the Beetle drivers ignored it.

            I’d rather share the road with sober drivers traveling at 80+ mph than stoned drivers meandering along at 55 mph.

        • 0 avatar

          It sure was, they just raised it from 65 to 70 mph where I live. I’m happy about it, Kenmore, not so much

    • 0 avatar

      Your concept is correct, but believe me, nothing today, no matter how hampered, will ever be like the stalling, sluggish, unreliable, miserable cars of that period. Even the worst car today is so much better than the star of that period. But, yeah, mileage quests will take precedence over, say shift points in the transmission. Maybe instead of trying all these tweaks first, carmakers should start with reducing bulk.

      • 0 avatar

        “carmakers should start with reducing bulk.”

        I think they’re becoming sensitive on that issue. You can’t, for example, get the new Impala’s weight from the official Chevy site. The listing for it says TBD. What? The car’s been out there selling for months now.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    The 2013 Accord and 2014 Mazda6 feel premium to me in a way that competitors can’t match. The same is true of the 2014 Impala…

  • avatar

    I question a lot of this as well. For example, the Mercedes products of the 2000s sucked compared to previous MB products and compared to the quality/reliability of their direct competition. The scores dipped, but still were at the upper reaches of the chart. When GM failures are the same delta as those experienced by MB, the impact is greater. Even today, if you spent any time comparing entry and midline MB products to Buick’s best interiors, you can’t possibly be satisfied by what materials Mercedes has put into their cars. I guess you see what you want to see. Much like the Impala review that stated “the only thing wrong with this car is the bowtie”, the three pointed star makes people believe they are seeing quality when they aren’t.

    Many a study has been done with “badge blindness” for new cars. When a badge with a checkered past is visible, the scores drop significantly from the blind scores. It’s hard to separate bias due to preference. If you want to see an “Excuse Factory” example of this, log onto Bimmerfest. They love their cars and accept issues with their BMWs that would have them making lemon law claims on a different brand. Some people don’t “know what they are missing” because they refuse to believe that a product may well be far better then they will allow it to be in their mind.

    • 0 avatar

      The guy I work for goes to the Mercedes service dept so much, it’s an ongoing joke around here. We all take turns giving him rides there. After being a Mercedes-exclusive family for 10 years, he finally threw in the towel. He’s on a first name basis with his service manager there – so much so he got an invite for his daughter’s wedding 2 years ago.

      Despite all that – he defends the brand to death. The anecdote he likes to tote around is his friend (who is a mechanic) who put 500k miles on his late 70s 300 turbo diesel. When he asked me for advice for a luxury brand with better reliability (and he did say reliability is a chief concern), I pointed him to the Japanese luxury brands. He pointed his nose upwards away from my “plebe” suggestions and instead got an X3.

      The X3 is now in its second week-long stay at the dealer. It’s less than a year old. I remember him being very excited about saving lots of money due to the “free” maintenance.

      • 0 avatar

        I wonder if it would be possible to assign a value (objective number) to the subjective experience of frequent vehicle service while under warranty. What I’m getting at is a metric feeding into total cost of ownership that includes “free” service that still impacts your life/schedule negatively. It isn’t truly “free” when you are without your car for a week twice in one year.

        • 0 avatar

          It probably wouldn’t make it more subjective. I knew a single mom who absolutely loved her Chrysler Town & Country back in the early 90s, and recommended it to everybody. Her rationale was that Chrysler is such an honorable and upstanding company that they would replace her transmission 3 times (within the first 40000 miles) without her paying a dime!

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