Toyota Snags Double Win in Customer Satisfaction Ratings

Toyota headlines the automobile industry when it comes to customer satisfaction, earning the top spot among both luxury and mass-market brands in this year’s American Customer Satisfaction Index. Toyota’s Lexus is the luxury leader at 86 (100-point scale), followed by an improved Mercedes-Benz at 84. For mass-market plates, Toyota’s namesake brand comes in first with an equally high score of 86, with Subaru closing in at 85.

General Motors is the only domestic automaker in the top five overall, with its GMC nameplate grabbing third place at a stable score of 84. Among luxury plates, two domestic offerings tie for third: GM’s Cadillac and Ford’s Lincoln. For the former, 2017 is a comeback year as Cadillac gains 5% to earn its berth on the leader board. Not so for Lincoln, which tumbles after holding first place among all vehicles a year ago—down 5% from 87 to tie with Cadillac (83).

While the overall trend for autos in 2017 is one of receding satisfaction, Toyota brands are on an upswing. Likewise, Korea’s Hyundai earns a slot at number four among mass-market cars with a 2% gain. In fact, five of the six top-scoring mass-market vehicles are imports, and all show ACSI gains.

Historically, Toyota has been a consistent leader in customer satisfaction. For three years running, the Japanese carmaker has placed in the top two among mass-market cars, while its Lexus nameplate hit number one in 2015 and tied for third in 2016 among upscale vehicles.

Toyota, Lexus, Autos: 5-year ACSI Trends

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Domestic Cars Bow to Imports in ACSI 2017

Latest data from the American Customer Satisfaction Index finds drivers less happy with their vehicles, as the automobile industry slips 1.2% to a score of 81 (scale of 0 to 100). The downturn comes after a year when sales peaked and driver satisfaction improved. The bad news, however, is primarily on the domestic side as many imports are excluded from the decline. Foreign-made vehicles continue to have the highest driver satisfaction and 77% of the above-average nameplates in the ACSI are imports.

For the overall industry, demand seems somewhat saturated, and total car sales dropped in the first half of 2017. Customer satisfaction also retreats, but individual nameplates post more year-over-year gains than losses. Among the 25 car brands tracked by the ACSI, 12 improve and 8 decline—4 of which are domestic plates. The gap between international and domestic automakers widens as U.S. companies fall to a combined ACSI score of 80 compared with 82 for European and Asian carmakers.

Domestic and International Automakers: 5-Year ACSI Trends

General Motors is the only U.S. automaker to improve customer satisfaction this year, stepping up to take the lead at 82. Ford falls behind GM with a drop to 81, followed by Fiat Chrysler at 77. While all three manufacturers posted sales declines for the first half of 2017, GM’s was by far the smallest.

Domestic Automakers: 5-Year ACSI Trends

Although U.S. cars have improved much over the years, Detroit automakers have not been as consistent in quality and customer satisfaction compared with their international counterparts. This year, lagging customer satisfaction is not about deteriorating quality, but rather lack of innovation compared with imports. Recalls also negatively impact satisfaction, and a growing number of surveyed drivers report experiencing a recall.

For the overall industry, vehicle dependability remains steady from a year ago, but drivers rate technology (controls, displays, navigation, video systems) and driving performance lower in 2017 for both mass-market and luxury cars. The least-satisfying aspect of the driving experience continues to be gas mileage—from SUVs to economy brands, consumers seek better mileage from their vehicles.

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GM and Ford Make Headlines. Where’s Chrysler?

While Lincoln and Buick made headlines for snagging the top two slots in ACSI’s 2010 results released last month, the third contender of the proverbial Big Three was conspicuously absent. Of course, the headlines could have taken a different twist—Jeep, Dodge Place Last in Satisfaction. At 77 and 78, Jeep and Dodge brands are indeed the worst satisfiers this year, with the Chrysler nameplate somewhat higher, but still below the average at 80.

ACSI results at the corporate level for the Big Three show Ford and GM brands holding to an average of 86 and 85, respectively, while Chrysler overall declines 4% to an average of 78, far below their domestic competitors. ACSI also compares U.S. versus Asian nameplates (Japan and Korea) each year, and this year the U.S. nameplates edge out Asian nameplates very slightly for the first time since 2000. If Chrysler’s lower performing brands were removed from the U.S. group, Detroit’s advantage would gain considerably.

Chrysler and GM both received bailouts that were met with uneven sentiment in the popular media, while Ford alone maneuvered through the height of the recession bailout-free. Certainly that may have helped Ford’s image in recent months, but Chrysler shows a long history of lagging behind Ford and GM in ACSI. Dodge’s satisfaction peaked at 81 in 2009 (below the industry average of 84), while Jeep has never gotten past 79. The Chrysler nameplate hit 84 in 2009, but looking at all of its measures since 1994, the brand most often ends up at a middling level of 80 (10 out of 17 years).

Click here to see the complete ACSI results for the auto industry.

Media Highlights August 2010

Press Release, August 17, 2010—Detroit Tops Auto Industry for the First Time Ever
CBS News, Ford, GM Models Top Customer Satisfaction Survey.
The Wall Street Journal, Ford, GM Brands Top Customer Satisfaction – Study
Chicago Sun-Times, U.S. Car makers top satisfaction list