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American Customer Satisfaction Index ACSI

Quality Insider

Quality Improvement Boosts Customer Satisfaction for Automakers

Luxury brands head industry list; Chrysler gains but still plays catch up

Published: Monday, August 27, 2012 - 13:12

Customer satisfaction at the national level is exactly where it stood at the start of 2012, and as far back as two years ago, according to a report released by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). During the second quarter of 2012, aggregate customer satisfaction stayed flat at 75.9 on a scale of zero to 100, which won’t help revive consumer spending or the sluggish economy at large.

“The good news is that customer satisfaction is not contracting, and that it remains at a generally high level,” says Claes Fornell, ACSI founder and author of the book, The Satisfied Customer: Winners and Losers in the Battle for Buyer Preference (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). “While the U.S. economy is less likely to slip back into recession, its recovery will not speed up much, either. If anxiety about the economy abated and overall customer satisfaction improved, this would lead to more demand, more household spending, and a quicker recovery.”

Better quality improves outlook for domestic and foreign nameplates

Customer satisfaction with the automobile and light vehicle industry improved for a second straight year, up 1.2 percent over last year to reach 84. The current score matches the industry’s all-time high from 2009, when aggressive dealer incentives, combined with the government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program helped revive the recession-strapped auto industry.

The customer satisfaction gain spans both domestic and foreign nameplates, with about 60 percent of the brands showing upticks in their ACSI scores compared with 2011. Specifically, four of seven Asian nameplates, two of three European carmakers, and six of nine American brands all earned higher ACSI scores.

“The difference between the industry’s high marks for customer satisfaction in 2012 vs. 2009 is that customers are responding to better quality rather than price promotions,” says Fornell. “Overall industry sales are up compared to a year ago, despite higher prices. An ongoing commitment to quality seems like a workable formula for sustaining both customer satisfaction and sales growth.”

Although domestic nameplates show the greatest improvement overall, they continue to trail both European and Asian cars. Among the U.S. automakers, Ford continued to hold the lead at 86 (+1%), followed by an unchanged General Motors at 84. Chrysler stayed in last place overall, but made the most progress in customer satisfaction with a 4-percent surge to 81.

Luxury plates set the pace

As in previous years, luxury brands have the upper hand when it comes to pleasing customers. Lincoln recaptured the industry lead with a 5-percent gain to 90. The downside for Lincoln is that high satisfaction may reflect a loyal, but dwindling, customer base.

Toyota’s Lexus followed closely in second place at 89, up 2 percent from its industry-leading score last year. Likewise, GM’s Buick nameplate gained 2 percent to 87, while Cadillac dipped 1 percent to 86. Germany’s BMW rebounded from a sharp decline a year ago by jumping 4 percent to tie Cadillac at 86. BMW regained its customer satisfaction prowess at the same time as the company achieved its second-best-ever operating profit.

Subaru’s score of 87 was the lone exception to luxury-plate dominance this year. The Japanese automaker rejoined the ACSI in 2012 after increasing its market share and beat its historic measures by 4 points or more.

Several automakers cluster at—or within 1 point of—the industry average of 84. The above-average group at 85 includes Hyundai (+2%), Mercedes-Benz (–1%), Toyota (–2%), and Volkswagen (+1%). Those just below average at 83 are Ford (–1%), Honda (–2%), Jeep (+5%), and Nissan (–1%). GM’s Chevrolet rose 2 percent to match the average at 84. The ACSI loss for Toyota’s namesake brand was enough to strip away its No. 1 title from 2011, while Honda’s downturn places it below average for the first time in ACSI history.

“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,” says Fornell. “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 for automobile manufacturers.”

Across-the-board ACSI gains for still-lagging Chrysler

Although Ford and GM showed a mixture of gains and declines across their nameplates, all three Chrysler brands moved forward in 2012. The company’s Dodge and Chrysler nameplates improved 3 percent to 81 and 78, respectively, while Jeep accelerated 5 percent to 83—an all-time high. This rise in customer satisfaction marked a strong resurgence for Chrysler, which also is reflected in consumer demand. Chrysler’s year-to-date sales are up 28 percent, outpacing Ford and GM’s growth of 5 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

Nevertheless, Chrysler continues to play catch up in the overall ACSI rankings for the industry. Among its three brands, none meets or exceeds the industry average for customer satisfaction. Additionally, both Dodge and Chrysler continues to hug the bottom of the industry, posting the third-worst and worst scores this year. Sandwiched between the two, GM’s GMC product line tumbled 4 percent to 80.

Two Asian carmakers are nestled among the Chrysler brands at the low end of the industry list: Mazda and Kia at 82. While Mazda zoomed up 4 percent this year to match its all-time ACSI high, the company continues to be a below-average performer compared with other brands.


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American Customer Satisfaction Index ACSI

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), founded at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and produced by ACSI LLC, is a national economic indicator of customer evaluations of the quality of products and services available to household consumers in the United States. The national index is updated each quarter and scores on a zero-to-100 scale at the national level. The ACSI produces indexes for 10 economic sectors, 47 industries, more than 225 companies, and more than 200 federal or local government services.