U.S. Consumer Automaker Ratings Equal Record High of 2009

U.S. consumers rated automakers this year at the same level as the record-high satisfaction score they gave in 2009, helped by gains in vehicle quality, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Automotive brands averaged 84 on a 100-point scale among U.S. consumers, Ann Arbor, Michigan-based ACSI said today in a report based on a survey of 5,000 customers collected in the second quarter. About 60 percent of 20 U.S. and international auto brands had an improved satisfaction rating, compared with last year, the ACSI said.

In 2009, consumer satisfaction was driven by incentives such as the government’s cash-for-clunkers rebate program, while this year’s 1.2 percent gain over 2011 was aided by “strength of quality improvements,” ACSI said in a statement. Consumers are more willing to spend when they expect they’ll be satisfied, so an increased score is a good indicator of future demand, according to Claes Fornell, founder of the ACSI.

“The difference between the industry’s high marks for customer satisfaction in 2012 versus 2009 is that customers are responding to better quality rather than price promotions,” Fornell said in the statement. “An ongoing commitment to quality seems like a workable formula for sustaining both customer satisfaction and sales growth.”

Slow Selling

U.S. brands, while improving the most, scored lower than European and Asian autos, with Chrysler Group LLC’s Dodge brand, General Motors Co.’s GMC line and the Chrysler nameplate making up the bottom three. Ford Motor Co.’s namesake brand was below the industry average, while its slow-selling Lincoln luxury line topped the list with a score of 90, up 4.7 percent from 2011.

“The downside for Lincoln is that high satisfaction may reflect a loyal, but dwindling, customer base,” ACSI said.

Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus luxury line achieved the second-highest satisfaction rating, with a score of 89. GM’s Buick brand followed with a score of 87, which was matched by Subaru’s namesake brand. Next was Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s BMW brand, which tied with GM’s Cadillac luxury line with a score of 86.

GM’s Chevrolet brand’s score matched the industry average of 84, while Chrysler’s Jeep brand rose 5.1 percent to 83, its highest score in the survey’s 18-year history.

The Toyota nameplate fell 2.3 percent to 85 and Honda Motor Co.’s namesake brand dropped 2.4 percent to 83.

“While Japan’s production is back on track after last year’s earthquake and tsunami, both Toyota and Honda have had quality issues as they race to recapture market share,” Fornell said. “These two automakers, once known for setting the bar for quality, have issued a large number of recalls over the past year. ACSI data show that recalls for quality defects have a negative impact on customer satisfaction.”