Detroit Losing Ground to Imports, New Consumer Survey Finds


  • American Customer Satisfaction Index Picture

    American Customer Satisfaction Index Picture

    A new survey reports a slide in customer satisfaction for autos. | August 28, 2013

Just the Facts:
  • A report by the American Customer Satisfaction Index shows U.S. auto brands losing ground to imports.
  • The highest rated domestic brands are Cadillac and GMC, while the lowest are Jeep, Chevrolet and Dodge.
  • Mercedes-Benz is the new leader in the index.

ANN ARBOR, Michigan — After a number of years of improving quality, U.S. automobile manufacturers are once again losing ground to the imports, according to a new report by the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Industry-wide customer satisfaction with cars and light trucks was down 1.2 percent from 2012, according to the report. But of the eight brands above the industry average, only two are domestic, Cadillac and GMC, while the three lowest-rated brands are all from U.S.-based manufacturers: Jeep, Dodge and Chevrolet.

As in past years, the survey found that luxury brands and some Japanese nameplates tended to have the highest level of customer satisfaction. A score of 88 put Mercedes at the top of the list, followed closely by Lexus at 87. Tied for 3rd place were Honda, Subaru and Toyota with a score of 86. This year's industry-wide satisfaction average was 83 percent.

The highest-rated brands from a domestic manufacturer were Cadillac, in 6th place with a score of 85 (down 1 percent from 2012), and GMC, which also scored 85 (up 6 percent).

The Ford nameplate scored 83, the same as 2012, tied for 9th place on the list with Acura, Nissan and Chrysler (up 6 percent from the prior year). Buick came in at 82, down 6 percent, tied for 13th place with BMW, Hyundai, Kia and Mazda.

At the bottom of the list, Jeep received a score of 80, down 4 percent from the previous year, while Chevy and Dodge each scored 79, down 6 percent and 2 percent, respectively. Lincoln, last year's winner, stopped being measured because of low market share.

The study found that the gap in customer satisfaction between U.S. and import brands is the widest in five years. This despite the fact that sales of both domestic and import vehicles have been on the upswing.

Interestingly, strong sales may account for the dip in quality ratings for the Detroit Three.

With sales increasing, "U.S. automakers may be stretched too thin, ramping up production to meet rising demand," said ACSI Director David VanAmburg in a statement. "At more than full capacity, it is not unexpected that quality may be giving way to quantity. This could become problematic once demand slackens, making further sales growth more challenging unless customer satisfaction improves."

Every year since 1994 the ACSI has surveyed more than 70,000 consumers to determine their level of satisfaction with a variety of products manufactured by 230 companies in 43 industries.

For the 2013 automotive report, the organization conducted telephone interviews with 4,078 customers, chosen at random and contacted via telephone and e-mail between April 6 and May 22, 2013. Questions covered not only the vehicles themselves, but also purchase price, service and other factors.

Edmunds says: The perception of lower quality could be a cautionary tale for the future for Detroit.

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