QOTD: Does Brand Experience Matter When You Buy a Car?

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

A week or two ago, a friend dropped me a line on GChat (oh sorry, it’s Hangouts now). She told me she and her husband were expecting their first child and they were going to trade one of their cars for a crossover/SUV. She wanted my recommendations.

I tossed out the usual suspects in the two-row and three-row categories (and in the $20K-$40K price range), based on what I’ve driven. I also mentioned a few models I have yet to drive that have been highly recommended throughout the automotive press.

I was intentionally a little vague because, as I told her, the final decision would come down to variables unique to her and her husband – what they feel is best for their finances, how they both like driving each individual car, their styling preferences, what features they want, et cetera. But a day later, something popped into my head. I realized I hadn’t considered a key factor: the brand, or more accurately, the brand/dealer experience.

My friend had mentioned maybe shopping for an unspecified Lexus (probably the RX) in passing, and I started thinking – if a car buyer is shopping along the price line that divides “mainstream” from “entry luxury” and “luxury,” does the perceived experience of owning a luxury car matter?

I don’t just mean image – most people would rather say “I own a Lexus/Acura/Infiniti” instead of “I own a Toyota/Honda/Nissan.” I’m thinking in terms of the actual customer service experience. Dealers that represent luxury brands tend to offer more perks in the service department (such as putting greens at some Lexus shops), and often have a reputation for being friendlier/more honest/more customer focused/whatever than the “mainstream” brands. And some “mainstream” brands have better reputations for same than others.

It’s a tricky question. Dealers, of course, operate independently of the OEMs they rep, and the experience can vary vastly even among dealers that rep the same brand and/or are located near each other. Not to mention many car buyers never visit a dealership for any service that isn’t warranty-related and never interact with the dealer or the OEM once they take possession of the car.

Note that I’m not necessarily talking about a brand’s reputation for reliability and quality here, although that’s obviously a factor, too. Same goes for tangible offerings such as maintenance plans – obviously, these may factor in, but I’d like to dig deeper into the overall relationship you may or may not have with your brand and its dealers as a vehicle owner.

So, I am asking you, Best and Brightest, does the brand experience matter to you after you’ve done your shopping and signed the papers? If so, why? Is it just about image? Are you concerned about reliability? Or is it just about how you’re treated when you return to the dealership (assuming you do) and/or have to deal directly with the manufacturer regarding some sort of issue?

What say you?

[Image: Lexus]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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  • TW5 TW5 on Mar 08, 2018

    The only customer service gimmick that made me happy was Carefree Maintenance. It's nice to get dealer service and onboard diagnostic information at no additional cost, and leveraging the purchasing power of the manufacturer/dealer works out well for everyone. For instance, Jiffy Lube knows 95% of people are going to pick conventional; therefore, that's where their purchasing leverage lies. Also, Jiffy Lube couldn't care less what is best for your vehicle. The manufacturer has an interest in providing good stuff, and VW was using 5W 5,000 synthetic 15 years ago, which as quite good for it's time. It's too bad more service can't be carefree like belts, tires, brake pads, etc. You have to buy extended package plans now, and without the price of the plan rolled into the MSRP, it has become a profit center for dealers. The only other gimmick that interests me is all of the new smart apps. Unfortunately, the dealers will be GPS datalogging your vehicle and relaying information to advertisers, and I doubt they offer the raw OBD code. Anyway, customer service is dead.

  • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on Mar 09, 2018

    I think it matters. I 'll not likely go to a restaurant again if my initial human interactions are poor. We like to buy 1 year old cars /CPO cars.It seems the family owned stores always want to go the extra mile, regardless if its a premium brand /pseudo premium /high volume domestic I remember being treated like a rock star by the local Infin. dealer for service of my g37S sedan manual because it was one of only a handful in KC. The locally owned Toyota dealer has been polite and helpful, but the service area for waiting isn't as nice, but it's clean, so that's all that matters to me. Not so much at the Hendrick GM dealer for the Enclave we had for a while.I'd buy another Buick, but at a different store, so I guess in the end it doesn't really affect my car buying.

  • 3-On-The-Tree To say your people are total monsters is an unfair statement. You can judge the Japanese government but to say the citizens are culpable or responsible is wrong. That’s like saying every Caucasian person in the U.S is responsible for slavery or the civil rights era of violence and discrimination against African Americans and are benefiting from it. That’s 79 years ago, the average Japanese citizen born during WWII has nothing to do with what happened. Even my Japanese grandmother who was living in Yokohama whose home was firebombed was just trying to survive with 3 kids and a husband fighting in the war. Just like every war the citizens suffer, I saw it in Iraq. You can’t judge the people from the misdeeds of their government, my mom was born after the war, you really think she is responsible for what happened?
  • Irvingklaws Was a must have for my wife's new car. After years of windshield mounts, trying to keep the sun off the phone, wires running across the dash, etc...it's been a welcome upgrade. Don't have it in my current (old) car, just a stock stereo with the aforementioned windshield phone mount and wires...which is fine enough for me. But if I upgrade the radio with an aftermarket unit, the first thing I'm looking for, after separate volume and tuning KNOBS, is Carplay. Note, I've yet to find an aftermarket head unit meeting these basic qualifications. The infotainment in my '17 GTI had both of these and was near perfect, I'd be happy with that unit in any car.
  • Haze3 Near must have... car guy make car, software guy make software THAT I CAN USE EVERYWHERE and not just on some specific brand of truck/car/suv.
  • Wolfwagen If there is no Rust or rot this would be a good buy when MB craftsmanship and engineering meant something. While I prefer the 500 or 560 for the larger engine, this is good
  • Wolfwagen Tim, Now you should ask the B&B who we want to succeed and why. You could limit it to EV or non- North American MFGs.