American consumers are more satisfied than ever before with the vehicles they drive, and for the first time in a decade they're as satisfied with US brand names as with Asian ones.
The upbeat survey results come even though the auto industry is in the midst of wrenching cutbacks in factories and brands. American brands scored some of the strongest gains, with Ford leading the way for the Detroit-based manufacturers.
Many foreign nameplates also showed improvement, pushing the overall satisfaction ranking for cars to a record level of 84, up from 82 the previous year. The survey asks consumers to rate their satisfaction on a scale from 1 to 100.
The results suggest that consumers may be reaping a benefit from fierce competition in the automotive sector, which has improved quality as well as led to some price discounts. But in part, the researchers say, the results also depict the recession's toll on car sales. As the least-satisfied customers exited the market, the ones who remain are on average more satisfied, say researchers who conducted the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey.
General Motors' Cadillac brand made one of the biggest jumps this year, to tie for first place in the survey. Here are the top-ranked brands and their scores: Cadillac and Lexus, 89; Buick, Honda, and Lincoln/Mercury, 88; and BMW, Toyota, and Volkswagen, 86.
The ACSI survey has a more general focus than two other prominent carmaker rankings – those by J.D. Power (tracking reported problems in first three years of ownership) and Consumer Reports (tracking problems encountered by 1.4 million vehicle owners). But the rankings paint a generally consistent picture.
The J.D. Power vehicle dependability study gives very high marks to Honda, GM's Cadillac and Buick nameplates, Toyota's Lexus, and Ford's Lincoln and Mercury brands, as do consumers in the ACSI survey. Nissan scored poorly in both these rankings and was one of the few brands to post a sizable decline in this year's ACSI satisfaction survey.
But some differences among the rankings also stand out. Volkswagen jumped to above-average in the ACSI survey, but is below-average in the J.D. Power ranking.
The Consumer Reports survey, released last December, tracks individual car models. Among the Detroit Three carmakers, it found Ford models generally scoring highest, followed by GM. Chrysler models ranked lowest among the American brands, with two-thirds of its vehicles below-average in reliability. Where Consumer Reports puts South Korea's Kia and Hyundai "right up there with the better Japanese makers," J.D. Power ranks Hyundai as average and Kia as below average.
Consumer Reports found that cars that save money at the gas pump also tend to score well on reliability. Honda's Fit and Toyota's Yaris had few reported problems. And for all their internal complexity, nine gas-electric hybrid cars (most Japanese-made) scored above average.
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