TORONTO - Canadian dealers have just come off a near-record sales year, but satisfaction with their franchises remains tepid, according to the annual survey of the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association.
Ford dealers are the exception. In their case, satisfaction with the factory drops down the scale to icy. Ford again occupied last place in the annual survey, which determines dealers' satisfaction levels based on their answers to 17 questions.
Dealers' overall satisfaction level was an average 72.48 percent in the recently released 1999 survey, unchanged from 1998 and down from the previous two years. Uncertainty and change have left satisfaction levels 'lukewarm,' said Tim Ryan, the association's director of legal and industry affairs.
Ford's 59.38 percent rating, and Lincoln Mercury at 59.75 percent, were far below average.
INTENSE PACE OF CHANGE
Lauren More, sales and marketing communication manager at Ford of Canada, said the survey results were not surprising.
'The pace of change at Ford of Canada has been more intense than at any other auto company in Canada,' she said, citing the decision to separate Lincoln from the Ford franchise, the launch of such programs as FastLane quick-service operations and initiatives in e-commerce.
'All of these are intended to better meet customer needs and grow the business,' she said. 'We're confident the innovations introduced will lead to strong growth for our dealers, given time to take root, and we think future surveys will present a very different picture.'
Gerry Little, dealer principal of Mid-Town Ford in Winnipeg, Manitoba, said the automaker has ruffled more than a few feathers in the past couple of years with a new parts pricing policy and a new ordering system he described as 'chaotic.'
Product, or the lack of, also has angered Ford dealers, he said.
'Ford has the best truck lineup in the industry, but the other half of the business is cars, and frankly, we've been out of the business,' he said. That should improve with the arrival of the Focus and the revamped Taurus, he said, but 'it's going to take time to heal the wounds.'
LUXURY BRANDS DOMINATE
Porsche moved into first place in the survey, from second in the past two years, with a 92.88 rating. Peter Kircher, president of Downtown Fine Cars in Toronto, Canada's largest Porsche store, praised the German automaker.
'Porsche gives us excellent service, treats us like a customer, responds to our needs,' he said. 'You can always say what you think without fear of repercussions. I own other franchises and they (Porsche) are the best manufacturer to deal with.'
Luxury brands again dominated the top rankings. Lexus, the perennial No. 1, slipped to No. 2 in the 1999 survey with a rating of 86.93, followed by Jaguar (84.64 percent), Infiniti (84.57 percent) and Mercedes-Benz (83.08 percent).
BMW, however, skidded to 22 from 16 in the 1998 survey and a 64.20 rating.