By on January 25, 2019

Cox Automotive, in conjunction with Automotive News, just released its Retail Brand Scorecards Study for 2018. The survey is interesting in that it ranks the perceived value of automakers by assessing how desirable they are to dealerships via an A-through-F grading system. Though, as engaging as it might be to look at these traits from a highly specific viewpoint (how dealerships see you in relation to specific manufacturers), we’re not sure how useful the average consumer will find them. Dealers and industry geeks, however, may want to take notice.

“This study represents a comprehensive review of brands from a unique perspective — how well they support the success of dealers,” said Cox Automotive Chief Economist Jonathan Smoke. “As we assembled the data and began to see how the brands performed differently, we started looking at the results as grades in high school, where the most well-rounded and high-achieving students are those who perform well across a wide range of disciplines. With that scorecard framework, we found a clear set of brands that are honor-roll worthy, as they are in essence the hardest-working, most successful students.” 

By separating desirable aspects into “subjects” tied to a graded system, you get a better sense of where specific manufacturers are weak. Core subjects include a brand ability to capture the “best customers” (people who frequently purchase new vehicles and get most of their servicing done at the dealership) to the newness and diversity of a brand’s lineup.

There are even metrics for the general attitude associated with a given brand, how much digital/physical traffic their products receive, and customer loyalty, with bonus points awarded to automakers for delivering consistent shares across market areas or allowing dealers to work more freely with OEMs.

Overall, this put premium nameplates on a more consistent average. Their ability to repeatedly acquire the “best customers,” while also offering fresher lineups and a superior public image served them well. Unfortunately, this meant that one major demerit in any category had the ability to throw them to the bottom of the pile.

For example, Jaguar scored well in most categories. But its lackluster vehicle range and middling consumer loyalty resulted in the lowest overall score of any luxury automaker. Tesla, Genesis, Porsche, and Land Rover were also severely impacted by their limited model offerings — despite the latter pair being almost unstoppable everywhere else. Were it not for their more focused fleets, all four would have placed much higher overall.

The takeaway here should be just how close a race it is between most premium brands. “One additional vehicle in the Lexus lineup would have put [them] on top of Mercedes,” explained Smoke.

LUXURY BRANDS (2018)

Make Best Customers Range Age Traffic Loyalty Attitudinal
Mercedes-Benz A A- A A A A
Lexus A B+ A A A A
BMW A A A A A A
Acura A C A A A A
Audi A B+ A A A A
Cadillac A B- A A B A-
Volvo A C A A B+ A
Porsche A F A A+ A A
Land Rover A F A- A A B+
Lincoln A- C+ A C+ B B+
Infiniti A- C+ A A C+ A
Genesis A F A+ C- A+ A
Tesla A+ F C+ A A A+
Jaguar A F A B C B+

Things were more diverse in the mainstream breakdown, with both higher and lower scores overall. Ford narrowly beat Toyota for top honors, thanks to bonus points stemming from superior “geographic consistency.” Chevrolet garnered extra credit for also having a consistent market share balance across the United States.

Ford Escape Titanium badge logo, Image: Ford Motor Company

While that doesn’t sound like much, this is wildly important when someone considers purchasing a dealership — it likely results in more sales for the brand down the line. However, Chevrolet also ranked as one of the industry’s worst performers when it comes to franchised dealers citing automaker mandates and restrictions that hold back business, according to Cox.

NON-LUXURY (2018)

Make Best Customers Range Age Traffic Loyalty Attitudinal
Ford A A- A- A A A
Toyota A A A A A A
Honda A C A A A A
Chevrolet A- A A A A A
Subaru A F A A A A
RAM B+ F C+ A A A
Hyundai A C A C A A
Jeep A F B+ A+ A A
GMC A F B+ A A- A
Nissan B A B+ C A A
Kia B- D+ A+ F A A
Dodge C+ F A A F A-
Volkswagen A F A- F A A
Chrysler A F A A D+ A
Mazda A D+ A C- A A
Buick A F A F C A
Mini A+ F A F C C+
Fiat A F B+ F B+ F
Smart A F B F C+ F
Mitsubishi D F A- F F B-

The brands that performed the best were the ones that lacked any major blemishes on their score card. Being overly specialized was seen as overwhelming negative. When stacked with weaknesses in other subjects, an automaker was swiftly assessed as a bottom-rung contender. In fact, most companies that received an C ranking in product diversity (range) could count on being in the bottom half of the pack.

There’s more to unpack here and, considering Automotive News’ involvement in the project, their assessment might be a good place to start. It goes into slightly greater depth and offers an adjusted grade point average for each brand.

For those of you not interested, and perhaps still confused by the study’s metrics for each category, here they are, as stated by Cox Automotive:

Best Customers: Analyzing segmentation data from Claritas, the team identified a brand’s ability to capture ideal customers — those who, among other traits, are most likely to buy new; buy frequently; obtain financing from the dealership; and return to the dealer for parts and service.

Range of Offerings: Assessing the strength of a brand’s products across the segments driving volume and growth in the market. The more complete the offerings, the more likely a brand will attract the best customers.

Age of Offerings: Grading the “newness” of a brand’s vehicle line-up by looking at specific models and their life cycle. As is well documented in the industry, a fresh product line drives interest and traffic and more profitable sales.

Digital Traffic: Measuring website traffic from Autotrader.com and KBB.com, two of the largest consumer shopping sites – both of which are Cox Automotive properties. This data set grades consumer interest by measuring average new car shopping activity by model.

Shopper Loyalty: Assessing shopper loyalty on KBB.com developed by observing consumers who price a trade-in from one brand and then price a new vehicle from the same brand. Higher shopper loyalty increases the likelihood of satisfied customers and repeat purchases.

Attitudinal: Using data from Kelley Blue Book’s Brand Watch study, all brands are rated in the key attributes that most drive purchase behavior, including reputation, durability, affordability, and safety.

[Images: Mercedes-Benz; Ford]

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24 Comments on “How Would Dealers Rate Their Brand? Scorecard Ranks Winners and Losers...”


  • avatar
    conundrum

    Another survey which means about nothing at all to the paying customer. The Range rankings seem to be about as illogical as some deskbound nerd could make them. Might as well have rated then on Cuisine – best cars to eat a slice of coconut cream pie in on the move.

    Anything that some bright spark can come up with is used to derive an index of nothing at all to flog to someone or other. Take Tesla here: the dealers rate it A+ for customers. What dealers? Tesla sells direct!

    It’s like commissioning a JD Power study — most reliable cars made in March 2016, or whatever Chevrolet won recently and then had to retract an ad for when everyone else squawked

    My own experiences as an actual, you know, prospective paying customer is that Mercedes and BMW sales personnel need to be sent to a re-education center to learn to pull their snooty noses out of their you-know-whats. Whether or not I utilize dealer financing has nothing to do with whether a dealer/brand is any good or not – for me. Whether a dealer rates it high or not is irelevant to anyone but them – and presumably all for dealers to compare their gut feeling with all the other dealers who “supplied” information.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      “Take Tesla here: the dealers rate it A+ for customers. What dealers? Tesla sells direct!”

      The dealers aren’t rating this in regard to customers. It’s about how the *dealers* rank their respective brands for their own purposes. I’m guessing that has a lot to do with allocations, backend incentives, customer service for dealer representatives, and all that. But that was stated several times in the article. It’s not useful data for Joe and Judy Customer, but it’s industry knowledge and thus relevant on a site like TTAC.

      The only real point I can see from a customer standpoint is that those brands starved for desirable or popular products, like Fiat, Mini, Smart, and Mitsubishi, are at the bottom…because they have little means with which to draw in customers.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      This is very useful for the paying customer, of Cox and its affiliates which are dealers. Of course the reality is that if you are already a dealer then you already have a brand or brands. So this is only really useful to a dealer who is looking to expand by offering more brands, either in their current location, a new location or by acquiring a competitive dealer.

  • avatar
    thornmark

    Ford has a wide range but is, in a way far more than most others, a one trick pony – at least sales wise

    weight the range by sales and/or profit

    at some point the market should be sated for $40,000 – $70,000 pickups and then the true mark-downs begin

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Well as of 2019 Ford no longer has a very wide range, and it will get worse in 2020 and even more so in 2021.

      • 0 avatar
        SD 328I

        How do you figure that?

        Ford is scheduled to release quite a few brand new vehicles in the next couple of years.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          Yes, but they’ll all be trucks. Ram has a range rating of F, and so does Jeep. A three row Wagoneer will be added to the full size Grand Cherokee, the midsized Cherokee, the compact Renegade, the four door Wrangler, and the two door convertible Wrangler, and they could toss out the back seat of the Wrangler and call it a convertible sports car, and stretch out the Wagoneer to limousine length, but they’re all Jeeps, so: small range of vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      So, does Ford not have the best selling midsize utility? Best selling sports car? Best selling van, both large and small? In every major category, Ford has a strong presence. Yes, less so in cars, but cars are becoming less and less important within the scope of the market which, as a whole, is turning to light trucks (where Ford is very strong).

      Repeating rhetoric chanted by a couple of narrow minded haters doesnt get you very far.

      Is Toyota a “one trick pony”? Their lineup as a whole is no more dominant or diverse than Ford’s, it’s just different categories where they are strong and where they are weak. They sell a lot of cars, heavily padded with rental fleet sales. They sell trucks, but only at a fraction of what Ford, GM or FCA does. They sell utilities, but again, are only strong in certain classes and are very weak in others.

    • 0 avatar
      SD 328I

      The F-150 has been the best selling vehicle sold in North America for a very long time, what 2-3 decades right? Not sure if you can satiate that market.

      If it moves downs, it will be because the auto market in general is moving down, but it will likely be the best selling within that market if you go by history.

  • avatar
    theBrandler

    Reading this makes me realize that I’m a horrible customer as far as a dealer is concerned.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Same here. I buy used, hold onto my cars for multiple years, avoid dealership for parts and service at all costs and routinely switch brands.

      To me a dealership is nothing more then warehouse full of inventory, if they have what I desire I visit them, if not its onto the next big parking lot. My last two cars came from CarMax and a wholesale outlet place. The wholesale place was in NJ but I live in FL, so even location doesn’t matter to me.

    • 0 avatar
      forward_look

      …. and I pay cash, and my last car came from Hertz. Although I do go to dealers to collect brochures for future purchases (not from them).

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Ummm, using the letter grades provided, shouldn’t the order of non-luxury brands be:

    Toyota
    Chevrolet
    Ford
    Honda
    Hyundai

    How is Toyota below Ford with straight As? How is Chevrolet behind Honda?

    Is there additional weighting in the methodology?

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      Yeah, I don’t get how Ford, with two A minuses could be ranked ahead of Toyota, that has straight As.

      The bottom dwellers are about as ugly as you would imagine them to be, especially Fiat, Smart, and Mitsubishi. Fiat sells garbage that no one wants, Smart sells tiny, overpriced cars that don’t get great gas mileage, and Mitsubishi is a hopeless case. Can Nissan save Mitsubishi? I seriously doubt it.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      According to Cox, companies could gain extra credit for things being less domineering toward dealers or having a strong presence across the market. As stated in the article, Ford was given top honors due to its superior “geographic consistency” against Toyota.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    It doesn’t tell us which are the most profitable dealers. Where’s Buick in this mess?

  • avatar
    Jagboi

    Shopper loyalty seems like an odd metric, as it only measured those who use a particular website. What about someone who buys a new car every 2 years and trades in the old one and never prices out the trade on KBB? Apparently they are not a “loyal customer”.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Well this is from Cox Automotive and they are promoting their own products, and of course claiming that Autotrader is where people shop for cars. When I’m shopping new I use the mfg’s website as most of them will allow you to look at the sticker and see exactly what is on the vehicle and they also often list vehicles in transit/ordered

      1-3 years old I’ll still shop the mfg website to search the dealer websites because again you can see the sticker and the best of the lease returns end up at that brand’s new car dealers since in most cases the grounding dealer gets the first whack and then other franchised dealers before the ones that didn’t make the grade head to the general auctions.

      Old used it is craigslist for me or Cars.com.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    There are nearly same number of luxury as non-luxury brands. We must be rich


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