American Car Buyers Less Satisfied With Domestics, Toyota Perpetually Fine: Study

Overall contentment among domestic vehicle owners dropped slightly in this year’s American Customer Satisfaction Index. Meanwhile, enjoyment from European and Asian automakers stayed roughly the same. However, that information might not be quite so useful until you begin comparing individual brands (and even other industries).

Domestic automakers averaged 80 out of a possible 100 points in the ACSI scale, with General Motors as the only American manufacturer seeing an improvement from 2016. For the sake of comparison, let’s see how other industries are doing on either end of the spectrum: Cable companies, which everyone hates, averaged 64 points and television sets, which everyone loves, scored 87 points.

By and large, that doesn’t place automakers in the doghouse. But it does highlight a modest shift in the perception of specific domestic brands while longtime satisfaction leaders, like Toyota and Lexus, hold pole position. 

General Motors made some serious gains in the latest ranking. Most notably with its Cadillac division, which saw a 5.1-point increase in consumer satisfaction over 2016. Meanwhile, GMC held its impressive 84-point score — placing it against Mercedes-Benz, which gained 3.7 points, and just behind Subaru’s third-place score of 85.

Buick also saw a slight increase in consumer pleasure (1.3 points), while Chevrolet lost 2.4 points. This left GM with a company-wide average of 82 points as rivals Ford and Fiat Chrysler both slipped rather dramatically.

While Lincoln’s overall score for 2017 is tied with Cadillac’s 83 points, that represents a 4.6-percent drop in consumer pleasure from 2016. Ford’s mainstream brand also saw a modest loss, but it still outperformed all non-Jeep FCA brands. Both Dodge and Fiat occupied the lowest slots, with 75 points apiece. Mitsubishi yielded a 78-point score, followed by Volkswagen and Ford’s 79 points.

The combined scores of all brands suppressed FCA to 77 points overall, leaving 81 points for Ford. These scores also widened the ACSI’s gap between domestic and foreign automakers, leaving North American brands with 80 points against Europe and Asia’s 82. While that difference seems tolerable, ACSI Chairman and founder Claes Fornell referenced the damning nature of some recalls (which visibly hurt Volkswagen) and wondered if the results weren’t indicative of something more.

“Chances are that we have seen this movie before,” said Fornell in a statement. “There was a surge in demand and increasing customer satisfaction with foreign cars in the 1980s, mostly because the domestic auto industry had difficulty keeping up. While U.S. cars have improved much over the years, they have not been as consistent in quality and customer satisfaction compared with their international counterparts. Experience with the Great Recession shows that this movie does not have a good ending unless major steps are taken — not another Government bailout, but rather a renewed focus on how to create satisfied and loyal customers.”

That certainly plays into market research firms being “the key” to unlocking a manufacturer’s true potential. Certain brands have continued to struggle over the years and the complete version of the ACSI’s yearly breakdown highlights that slippage rather well. Let’s remember that, while influenced by mechanical missteps and recalls, this is a measurement of public perception and some automakers have clearly failed at maintaining their image.

[Image: Toyota]

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