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Customer Satisfaction With Automakers Declines A Bit

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ANN ARBOR (WWJ) – Automakers are not pleasing customers as much as they did a year ago, although pent-up demand is pushing strong sales, according to a report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Customer satisfaction with automobiles and light vehicles declines 1.2 percent to an ACSI benchmark of 83 on a 0 to 100 scale, following back-to-back years of improvement.

The ACSI’s 2013 Auto Industry report covers customer satisfaction with 20 nameplates — both foreign and domestic — which comprise some of the most popular brands bought by U.S. consumers.

The erosion in customer satisfaction for autos impacts domestics as well as imports. Overall, only 26 percent of the individual nameplates improve, while 53 percent decline and 21 percent remain unchanged. Among Asian vehicles, three of nine show decreases. Likewise, two of three European brands drop. On the domestic side, five of eight nameplates are down compared to a year ago.

Although the drop in customer satisfaction affects most automakers, Detroit is losing ground to imports. The customer satisfaction gap relative to imports is now the widest in five years. As recently as 2010, Asian and domestic carmakers were tied for customer satisfaction, but the Asian group has reestablished a significant advantage.

Of the eight nameplates above the industry average, only two are domestic (Cadillac and GMC), while the three bottom entries are all domestic (Jeep, Dodge, and Chevrolet). While domestic automakers reported strong sales for July, the aggregate of the Big Three’s market share has shrunk slightly since 2011 and remains below pre-recession levels.

“U.S. automakers may be stretched too thin, ramping up production to meet rising demand,” says David VanAmburg, ACSI director. “This could become problematic once demand slackens. Unless customer satisfaction improves, Detroit could be left with inventories that are difficult to move.”

As in previous years, luxury brands have the upper hand when it comes to pleasing customers in 2013. Mercedes-Benz captures the industry lead, jumping 4 percent to an ACSI benchmark of 88. Toyota’s Lexus brand slipped 2 percent but retained second place at 87, followed closely by three cars at 86 — Subaru, Toyota, and an improved Honda (up 4 percent). GMC gained 6 percent to 85, tying luxury plate Cadillac. Volkswagen dipped slightly, but still exceeds the industry average at 84.

Honda’s upscale brand Acura entered the ACSI at 83, equaling the industry average, but a far cry from Toyota’s upscale Lexus nameplate. The Ford nameplate tied Acura with an unchanged score of 83. Several vehicles cluster a point lower at 82. Kia and Mazda are flat compared with the prior year, while Buick, BMW, and Hyundai showed declines ranging from 4 to 6 percent to fall to 82.

Both GM and Chrysler showed mixed results in 2013, with two of three brands suffering downturns in customer satisfaction. For GM, both Buick and Chevrolet dropped 6 percent compared to the prior year. The loss for Chevrolet placed it in a tie for last with Chrysler’s Dodge, down 2 percent to 79.
Chrysler’s Jeep retreated as well, down 4 percent to 80, but the Chrysler nameplate rebounded 6 percent to 83.

The auto decline was part of an overall decline of satisfaction with durable consumer products, which fell overall 1.2 percent to 82. The decline ended a long climb in aggregate customer satisfaction that began in 2010.

The durable consumer products includes goods like autos and major household appliances.

Next month, the ACSI will release a separate report on customer satisfaction with major appliances, personal computers, and televisions and video players/recorders, rounding out coverage of durable products for 2013.

The Quarterly Update on U.S. Overall Satisfaction and 2013 Auto Industry Report is available for free download at http://www.theACSI.org. Follow the ACSI on Twitter at @theACSI and Like us on Facebook.

ACSI data have proven to be strongly related to a number of essential indicators of micro and macroeconomic performance. For example, firms with higher levels of customer satisfaction tend to have higher earnings and stock returns relative to competitors. Stock portfolios based on companies that show strong performance in ACSI deliver excess returns in up markets as well as down markets. And, at the macro level, customer satisfaction has been shown to be predictive of both consumer spending and GDP growth.

The Index was founded at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and is produced by ACSI LLC. The ACSI can be found on the Web at http://www.theacsi.org.

As in previous years, luxury brands have the upper hand when it comes to pleasing customers in 2013. Mercedes-Benz captures the industry lead, jumping 4 percnet to an ACSI benchmark of 88. Toyota’s Lexus brand slipped 2 percent but retained second place at 87, followed closely by three cars at 86 — Subaru, Toyota, and an improved Honda (up 4 percent). GMC gained 6 percent to 85, tying luxury plate Cadillac. Volkswagen dipped slightly, but still exceeds the industry average at 84.

Honda’s upscale brand Acura entered the ACSI at 83, equaling the industry average, but a far cry from Toyota’s upscale Lexus nameplate. The Ford nameplate tied Acura with an unchanged score of 83. Several vehicles cluster a point lower at 82. Kia and Mazda are flat compared with the prior year, while Buick, BMW, and Hyundai showed declines ranging from 4 to 6 percent to fall to 82.

Both GM and Chrysler showed mixed results in 2013, with two of three brands suffering downturns in customer satisfaction. For GM, both Buick and Chevrolet dropped 6 percent compared to the prior year. The loss for Chevrolet placed it in a tie for last with Chrysler’s Dodge, down 2 percent to 79.

Chrysler’s Jeep retreated as well, down 4 percent to 80, but the Chrysler nameplate rebounded 6 percent to 83.

The full report is available for free download at http://www.theACSI.org. Follow the ACSI on Twitter at @theACSI and Like us on Facebook.

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