Some surprises in customers' car rankings

The auto industry may be have a rough road ahead of it, according to a new report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Customer satisfaction with automakers has dipped to a five-year low, with both domestic and imported car makers suffering declines in the survey. The ACSI interviews about 70,000 customers each year to create customer satisfaction rankings across a number of industries.

Some automakers fared worse than others, with the steepest decline witnessed by Acura, which slipped 7 percent to hit a rating of 77, or the lowest among the brands ranked in the survey (see chart at bottom for a full list of automakers ranked by customer satisfaction).

Signaling the link between customer satisfaction and sales, the report notes that Acura, the luxury division of Honda (HMC), is the only luxury make that has recorded lower year-to-date sales when compared with a year earlier.

Acura wasn't the only luxury model with a less-than-rosy report. Audi scored a 79, or lower than the automobile sector's average rating of 82. BMW, meanwhile, suffered a decline of 2 percent, dipping to 80.

"Several of the luxury brands do poorly. That didn't use to be the case, and suggests that consumers now expect more for their money when they pay a premium price," Claes Fornell, ACSI chairman and founder, said in a statement.

The overall decline in auto satisfaction might indicate troubles ahead for the industry, the report warns.

"While new car sales are at the highest level since the Great Recession began, the rate of sales growth has contracted substantially in 2014," according to the report. "In the aggregate, a drop in customer satisfaction is likely to increase pressure on the economy's ability to generate consumer demand and repeat buying. This comes at a time when economic growth needs to pick up pace, not slow down."

Of course, this hasn't been a typical year for the auto industry, which has issued a record number of recalls. That has crimped some customers' satisfaction, given the report's findings that car owners with at least one recall rate their vehicle 6 percent lower than those whose cars weren't recalled.

Yet General Motors (GM), which has issued recalls on more than 26 million cars, isn't facing entirely dire news. Two GM brands -- Buick and Chevrolet -- witnessed increases in consumer satisfaction. Buick's score rose 1 percent to 83, while Chevy saw a 4 percent gain, reaching 82.

"A considerable investment in Buick appears to be paying off for General Motors," the report notes. "Sales are up 12.5 percent for the first half of the year -- the largest increase for any GM car -- led by a surge in sales for Buick Encore."

GM's GMC declined 4 percent to 82 points, while its Cadillac slipped 6 percent to 80 points.

Joining Acura at the bottom of the rankings are Chrysler's Jeep and Dodge brands, with ratings of 79 and 78, respectively.

So which cars are Americans' favorites? Mercedes-Benz ranked at the top, with 86 points, followed closely by Subaru, with 85 points. In third place is Toyota's Lexus, with 84 points.

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American Customer Satisfaction Index

  • Aimee Picchi

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