ANN ARBOR, Michigan — Lexus overtook Mercedes-Benz this year to become the leading automotive brand in the 2015 American Customer Satisfaction Index.
According to the survey of 4,294 customers who purchased cars in the past three years, Lexus scored 84 out of a possible 100 points, the same rating it received in 2014, while Mercedes dropped 3 percent, to 83 points, putting it in a tie for 2nd place with Acura and Lincoln.
According to the study, a record number of recalls in the past year has contributed to a general reduction in consumer satisfaction with new vehicles.
The industry as a whole fell 3.7 percent in 2015, down to 79, marking the third straight year of decline and reaching the lowest level since 2004.
"While it is true that all cars are now much better than they were 10 to 20 years ago, it is alarming that so many of them have quality problems," said Claes Fornell, ACSI Chairman and founder, in a statement. "The number of recalls is at an all-time high. This should not happen with modern manufacturing technology and has negative consequences for driver safety, costs and customer satisfaction."
Another factor that helped erode consumer satisfaction, according to the ACSI, is rising vehicle prices. The study notes that an improving economy has resulted in more vehicle sales, but at the same time increased costs have led to grumbling among buyers.
"Higher prices are clearly hurting car buyer satisfaction, but low prices also have artificially inflated satisfaction in the years prior," said ACSI Director David VanAmburg. "The government's Cash for Clunkers program helped push driver satisfaction to its highest level ever in 2009 — and heavy discounting as the economy recovered kept satisfaction up for a while. The customer satisfaction levels the auto industry is seeing now are more consistent with historical ACSI data."
Of 27 automotive brands tracked by the ACSI, 15 experienced reduced customer satisfaction compared to last year's study, and only two saw improvements: Acura, with an 8 percent gain, and BMW, which improved by 3 percent.
Import brands made up 77 percent of those rated above average in customer satisfaction, and among the domestic brands, only Ford (which includes the Lincoln nameplate) maintained its rating, with a score of 81, while General Motors dropped 3 percent to 79, and Fiat Chrysler scored 75 points, a reduction of 5 percent.
Edmunds says: Kudos to Lexus and its dealers for coming out ahead of the pack in this critical study.