Asian, European brands dominate satisfaction survey, but U.S. brands close gap

Mercedes-Benz topped the study -- the second consecutive year the brand has led the survey.

Asian and European brands dominate the top of an annual survey of U.S. customer satisfaction with auto brands, though overall satisfaction with the industry dropped for the second year in a row.

And while customer satisfaction with domestic auto brands fell to a five-year low, Detroit 3 brands still managed to narrow the persistent gap with Asian and European rivals, according to the 2014 American Customer Satisfaction Index released today.

The latest survey found that overall customer satisfaction with automotive brands declined 1 point to 82 on a 100-point scale.

The gap between the score for the American brands, 80.75, and the leading European brands, 82.25, was 1.5 points this year, 1.2 points less than in 2013. The gap between Detroit 3 brands and their Japanese and Korean rivals, which averaged a score of 81.78, tightened by 1.07 points to 1.03 points.

Seven of the top 10 brands in the latest study are imports.

Mercedes-Benz topped the study with a score of 86 -- the second consecutive year the German luxury brand has led the survey, though its score declined 2 points from 2013. Subaru followed with a score of 85, down 1 point from 2013.

Lexus and Volkswagen followed with scores of 84.

Toyota and Honda brands tied with Buick for fourth place with scores of 83. GMC, Kia and Chevrolet rounded out the top 10 with scores of 82.

Buick was the only domestic brand to score above the industry average of 82.

“Historically there was a pretty persistent gap” between U.S. and European and Asian automakers, said Forrest Morgeson, director of research for the study. “Even though everyone is down this year, a narrowing gap is certainly a good thing for U.S. automakers.”

The ACSI study is based on phone and email interviews with 4,360 customers who purchased light vehicles in the past three years. It measures customer satisfaction with the quality of 21 foreign and domestic nameplates as well as other factors such as price and dealership experience.

The interviews took place from April 22 to May 29.

Recalls and incentives

According to the index, customers who experienced one recall or more in the past year rated their cars 6 percent lower than those who didn’t.

But Morgeson said those consumers who didn’t experience a recall still may harbor negative feelings for some automakers after seeing so much news coverage of recalls.

“As recalls occur and become high profile, it impacts consumers’ opinion of that brand regardless,” Morgeson said.

Customers also may be dissatisfied by a lack of incentives, Morgeson said. When U.S. sales improve, dealers offer fewer incentives.

Customer satisfaction for 2014 topped the original 1994 baseline of 79 by 3 points. The highest industry average customer satisfaction rate recorded was 84 in both 2009 and 2012.

Gainers and losers

Dodge, with a score of 78, and Acura, with a score of 77, ranked at the bottom of the brand survey. Dodge declined 1 point from 2013, while Acura plummeted six points from 83 last year.

Buick and Chevrolet gained points from 2013. Buick rose 1 point to 83, and Chevrolet jumped 4 points to 82.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index was started by the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business. It is now conducted by ACSI, a national economic indicator of consumer evaluations of the quality of products and services available to household consumers in the United States.

ACSI tracks consumer goods to analyze customer satisfaction in more than 43 industries and publishes results each month.

You can reach Hannah Lutz at -- Follow Hannah on Twitter: @hm_lutz

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