Detroit Closing the Gap, But Imports Stay on Top

In a year of waning overall driver satisfaction, Asian and European cars command the field, holding six of the seven top slots in the American Customer Satisfaction Index’s annual measure of the automobile industry. Only one domestic vehicle, GM’s Buick, earns an above-average score for customer satisfaction.

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Driver penchant for imports is not new in ACSI studies. The year 2010 marked the first time in a decade that U.S. plates overall managed to edge out Asian brands for satisfaction. The brief stint for U.S. cars over Japan/Korea followed one year after the auto industry hit a record-high ACSI score of 84, as aggressive dealer incentives plus the government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program helped revive a recession-strapped industry. In 2012 autos hit 84 again, but since then driver satisfaction, on average, has waned.

For the last five years, European brands have held the high ground in ACSI. This year, Germany’s Mercedes-Benz leads the field at 86, helping Europe maintain the upper hand over Asian cars—but only by the slimmest of margins. With the entire industry trending downward, a less steep decline for Detroit’s Big Three works to narrow its gap to imports compared with a year ago.

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With imports now in its sights, Detroit could be poised to catch up—and perhaps even surpass—both Asian and European brands for customer satisfaction, but this has yet to occur in two decades of ACSI measurement.

Download ACSI Automobile Report 2014 »

Automotive News: Asian, European Brands Dominate Satisfaction Survey, but U.S. Brands Close Gap »

Marketing Daily: Satisfaction Dips; Imports Vs. Domestics Gap Narrows »

Driver Satisfaction Shake-Up for Luxury Cars

Drivers who opt for luxury are typically among the most satisfied, according to two decades of ACSI research on customer satisfaction with automobiles and light vehicles. When it comes to premium-priced vehicles, manufacturers strive to pair top-notch service with features aimed at comfort and luxury—all of which helps boost satisfaction.

ACSI findings for 2014, however, reveal widespread deterioration in driver satisfaction. Among 21 measured car brands, 80% show some decline in ACSI compared with the prior year. The two that take the hardest hit are both luxury makes: Acura and Cadillac. By contrast, Germany’s Mercedes-Benz still leads the field as it did in 2013, albeit at the lower ACSI score of 86, while GM’s Buick is one of only two nameplates to post a gain (+1% to 83).

With a sharp drop of 7%, Honda’s Acura tumbles down to last place for 2014. In its second year of measurement, Acura scores 77, down from 83 a year ago. Another luxury newcomer to ACSI, Audi, inhabits the low end with a debut score of 79.

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Cadillac, GM’s flagship luxury make, plunges 6% to 80, failing to score above average for the first time in ACSI history. The drop in customer satisfaction for Cadillac coincides with news that the brand’s August year-on-year sales in the U.S. are down 18%, in sharp contrast to the industry’s overall gain of 5.5%.

View more automobile scores »

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The Wall Street Journal: Automotive Customer Satisfaction Dips for Second Straight Year »

ACSI’s Forrest Morgeson Talks Cars with MarketWatch’s Catey Hill on WSJ Live

On August 26, ACSI Research Director Dr. Forrest Morgeson discussed the highs and lows of this year’s ACSI study on driver satisfaction with MarketWatch’s Catey Hill on Wall Street Journal’s News Hub with Sara Murray.

According to the recently released ACSI Automobile Report 2014, imports and luxury nameplates top the list for customer satisfaction, with Germany’s Mercedes-Benz leading the field at 86, followed by Subaru at 85. The other above-average brands for satisfaction are Lexus, Volkswagen, Toyota, Honda, and Buick—the only domestic make in the upper tier.

By contrast, Audi and two Chrysler plates—Jeep and Dodge—inhabit the low end among 21 popular vehicle lines with scores of 78 to 79. A relatively new entrant to the study, luxury model Acura, drops down to 77, perhaps leaving owners wanting more for their premium dollar.

Watch the interview »

Throughout September, the ACSI will feature customer satisfaction news on the auto industry, as well as complete 2014 coverage of the durable goods sector.

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