Cadillac, Lexus topped the American Customer Satisfaction Index

Article by Christian Andrei, on August 16, 2011

The top brands named in American Customer Satisfaction Index's annual ranking of automakers are Cadillac from General Motors Co. and Toyota Motor Corp.'s namesake division and Lexus line. Toyota, Cadillac, and Lexus were tied at 87 on a scale of 100. Toyota is the only non-premium brand in the top five.

Lincoln and Mercedes-Benz came in next, both getting scores of 86. Meanwhile, BMW dropped to No. 11, with a score of 83. BMW’s lowest mark was in 1997 with a score of 80.

Claes Fornell, the creator of the index, said that Toyota’s score is a “surprise,” considering that it builds a considerable volume of fairly low-priced cars. The scores come from about 70,000 interviews with customers regarding satisfaction with goods and services.

The annual auto rankings were based on data from 5,000 surveys gathered in the second quarter. The score of each company is based on a sample of 250 telephone interviews with consumers. The auto industry went up by 1 point to 83, its second- highest score ever.

The Chrysler brand was the lowest-rated brand with a score of 76. All the seven Asian brands in the index increased, except for Mazda. Honda, scoring 85, and Hyundai, with 83, both achieved a 1.2% increase.

A recent revival in customer satisfaction for international carmakers may hamper the recovery progress made by auto companies in the United States, a report by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) says. The report provides not only an update of the national ACSI but also entails customer satisfaction with nameplates offered by domestic and foreign carmakers. The aggregate national ACSI for the second quarter of the year – adjusted for all companies measured in the past 12 months – was around 0.1-percent better than the index in the first quarter at a score of 75.7 on ACSI's 0-100 scale. This means that it is not enough to affect consumer spending or trigger economic growth.

According to Claes Fornell, founder of the ACSI as well as author of “The Satisfied Customer: Winners and Losers in the Battle for Buyer Preference,” the surge in the overall customer satisfaction in the US is very slight. In particular, its impact on consumer demand diminishes in a struggling economy. He noted that while companies with good satisfaction scores post growing demand, aggregate demand during economic distress is affected by other factors like doubt over the future and job uncertainties, as well as lack of discretionary income. Overall, the ACSI for the auto industry surged 1.2 percent to 83.

Interestingly, two Japanese and one American brands, made it to the top three in ACSI. Lexus, Toyota and Cadillac jumped two, four and one percentage points, respectively, to 87. In 2010, Lincoln and Buick posted the largest ACSIs. In 2011, Lincoln and Buick dipped three percentage points to 86 and 85, respectively. Mercedes-Benz managed to get the same score of 86, while Honda jumped. To sum up, five of the top seven rankers are luxury brands. Ford and Nissan, meanwhile, leaped two percentage points to 84.

Volkswagen also scored 84 points (plus 4 percentage points) after dropping big time in 2010. BMW fell four percentage points to 83, the same score as Hyundai and GMC which both dropped one percentage point. They are followed by Chevrolet (+3% to 82) and Kia (+1% to 81). Lurking at the bottom are Dodge and Jeep, which gained one and three percentage points, respectively.

Sitting beside them with the same score is Mazda, which dropped one percentage point. Chrysler had a score of 76, after dropping five percentage points. Thanks to quality and supply issues at by Japanese carmakers, Detroit automakers were able compete better, racking up both profit and market share. Despite this, their customer satisfaction scores failed to improve at the same pace and were even lower than their foreign counterparts.

Not only that, Japanese brands Toyota and Honda – two of ACSI leaders – are offering large price discounts in order to recover lost market share. Fornell noted that the discounts offered by Japanese automakers should make competition tough for others, especially since sales in the auto industry are still weak. He added that before, it was Detroit that uses buyer incentives to offset its weaker customer satisfaction.

Now that Japanese carmakers are augmenting their strong customer satisfaction with discounts, US carmaker might have to do the same, which means a probable dent in their profit margins. Although domestic sales did surge – save for the Chrysler and Lincoln nameplates – Detroit’s lower customer satisfaction might hamper its comeback.

Fornell noted that while production issues at Japanese carmakers gave US automakers a chance to hike both market share and earnings, dropping customer satisfaction will make it difficult for Detroit to sustain such gains as their Japanese counterparts start to recoup. Customer satisfaction averages for Ford and General Motors dropped one percentage points to 85 and 84 respectively, while Chrysler scored an average of 78.

Press Release

Japan Improves While Detroit Stalls; Aggregate ACSI Growth Too Weak to Bolster Increase in Consumer Spending

A customer satisfaction resurgence for international carmakers puts Detroit's fledgling recovery in jeopardy, according to a report released today by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). The report covers customer satisfaction with an array of nameplates offered by domestic and foreign automobile manufacturers, along with an update of the national ACSI.

ACSI and the National Economy: No Lift in Consumer Demand
Second quarter results for the aggregate national ACSI, calibrated for all companies measured in the past 12 months, reveal marginal improvement compared to the first quarter, gaining 0.1% to a score of 75.7 on ACSI's 0-100 scale-not enough to make a dent in consumer spending or spur economic growth.

"Not only is the increase in the nation's overall customer satisfaction minute, its impact on consumer demand weakens in a struggling economy," says Claes Fornell, founder of the ACSI and author of The Satisfied Customer: Winners and Losers in the Battle for Buyer Preference. "While demand generally shifts to companies that do a good job of satisfying their customers, aggregate demand in times of economic distress is hampered by other factors, such as doubt about the future, job uncertainty, and lack of discretionary income."

Automobiles: Clouds Darken for Detroit
Japan scores big with two entries among the top three positions in ACSI. After falling last year amidst major quality problems, Toyota's Lexus (+2%) and the Toyota (+4%) brand itself glide into first place at 87, matched by GM's Cadillac (+1%). Overall, the auto industry ACSI score improves by 1.2% to 83.

Detroit's 2010 capture of the ACSI lead proves short-lived as the defending customer satisfaction champs, Lincoln and Buick, endure a 3% slump to 86 and 85, respectively. Mercedes-Benz holds steady at 86, while Honda inches up 1% to 85. Among the top seven ACSI carmakers, five are luxury brands, with Japan's best U.S. sellers (Honda and Toyota) rounding out the group.

Small gains of 2% take both the Ford nameplate and Nissan to their best-ever ACSI scores of 84. Recovering from a steep drop in 2010, Volkswagen also hits 84 (+4%), but stays shy of its record high (86 in 2009). At mid-industry, BMW trails other luxury brands, tumbling 4% to a 14-year low of 83 and finding itself in the company of Hyundai (+1%) and GMC (-1%). Chevrolet (+3%) and Kia (+1%) follow at 82 and 81, respectively.

The worst scores in the industry go to Chrysler, despite small-to-modest gains for its Dodge (+1%) and Jeep (+3%) product lines. At 79, both nameplates tie Mazda (-1%)-the weakest Japanese offering-while the Chrysler brand itself suffers a second consecutive 5% slump to 76.

Detroit saw a respite in competition in the past year, with profit and market share benefitting from quality and supply problems faced by Japanese carmakers, but now the real test for the domestic car industry is about to begin. Not only is customer satisfaction heading in the wrong direction and lower than international competition, Toyota and Honda are adding large price discounts as they attempt to recoup market share.

"Price discounting by Japanese automakers will make competition very difficult for all others, especially since industry sales remain weak," says Fornell. "It used to be Detroit that was forced to use buyer incentives to compensate for its weaker customer satisfaction. Now, with the Japanese using discounts in addition to their strong customer satisfaction, Detroit will probably have no choice but to respond in kind, putting more pressure on profit margins as a result."

While domestic sales have increased (the exceptions are the Chrysler and Lincoln nameplates with negative year-to-date sales growth), lower customer satisfaction could impede Detroit's comeback. "Production challenges for Japanese automakers provided an opportunity for Detroit to increase both market share and earnings, but declining customer satisfaction will make it difficult to sustain these gains as the Japanese companies begin to recover," notes Fornell.

Customer satisfaction averages for the three U.S. automakers show Ford maintaining its lead at 85, followed by General Motors at 84 (both down 1% from last year). Chrysler, in contrast, lags significantly behind at an average of 78, occupying the most precarious position with regard to both domestic and international competition.

About ACSI
The American Customer Satisfaction Index is a national economic indicator of customer evaluations of the quality of products and services available to household consumers in the United States. Data from interviews with approximately 70,000 customers annually are used as inputs into an econometric model to measure satisfaction with more than 225 companies in 47 industries and 10 economic sectors, as well as more than 130 federal government programs, agencies, and websites. Results are released on a monthly basis with all measures reported using a 0-100 scale. 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 gross domestic product growth.

Topics: united states

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