Car buyers are getting more satisfaction, it seems, according to new data from the American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).
Consumer satisfaction with automobiles is up 3.8 percent to 82 on ACSI’s 100-point scale.
And while luxury cars have dominated the driver satisfaction rankings for years, the top tier is now evenly split between mass market and luxury vehicles.
“The rise of mass-market vehicles may well be at the expense of luxury brands in the sense that buyers now see little differentiation between luxury cars and regular ones,” said Claes Fornell, ACSI chairman and founder. “If there is little difference, why pay more? Exclusivity may not be enough.”
Among 24 auto brands tracked by the ACSI, 16 saw improvement while five — three of which are premium brands — saw declines. The most notable decline was for Volkswagen, which is enmeshed in the emissions-cheating scandal known as Diesel-gate. Volkswagen dropped 3 percent to 78.
“The combination of fines and fallen stock price are a big hit to Volkswagen’s finances, but it may prove even harder to recover from the reputational hit the company will take for deceiving customers and the general public,” said David VanAmburg, ACSI director. “Many customers or would-be customers could be turned-off of VW for life and it’s hard to put a value on that.”
Good news for domestic automakers
All domestic automakers improve customer satisfaction overall this year, and the highest-scoring car is now an American brand. Ford’s Lincoln took the lead at 87, a 5-percent gain. Honda claimed second place with an 8-percent gain to 86, while Toyota and BMW each advanced 4 percent, placing these luxury and mass-market brands in a tie for third place at 85.
Lexus, which previously held first place, is now matched by GMC (+8 percent), Subaru (+2 percent) and Nissan’s Infiniti — the leading gainer with a 9-percent jump to 84. Audi (up 6 percent) and Chevrolet (up 5 percent) follow close behind at 83. The rest of the industry came in below the industry average. The Ford brand edged up 3 percent to 81, catching up with Mercedes-Benz (-2 percent) and Hyundai (unchanged).
Nissan moved 4 percent higher to 80, matching Mazda (unchanged), while Chrysler climbed 7 percent to join Cadillac, Buick, Kia and Mitsubishi at 79. Acura fell 8 percent to 76 at the bottom of the category.
“Year-to-date sales are looking pretty flat, and demand for cars may slacken some,” says VanAmburg. “But the good news for Detroit is that higher levels of customer satisfaction will make it more competitive.”
Among domestic automakers, Ford kept its lead, stepping up to 84, followed by GM (81) and Fiat Chrysler (78). In comparison with foreign-made autos, which have long had the highest customer satisfaction, domestics are catching up, rising to 81 overall. European automakers also fared better, matching Japanese and Korean manufacturers at 82.
The ACSI report is based on 3,776 customer surveys collected in the second quarter of 2016 that looked at customer experience benchmarks ranging from driving performance and dependability to vehicle safety, comfort and exterior appearance.
The report is available for free download at www.theacsi.org/news-and-resources/customer-satisfaction-reports/reports-2016/acsi-automobile-report-2016.