The Jaguar brand, sold by Ford Motor Co. last year to India's Tata Motors, won top honors in the annual J.D. Power and Associates Sales Satisfaction Index -- the fifth time in six years the luxury brand has taken the top spot in the influential survey.
The index, released today, measures how customers are satisfied by their buying experience based on five sales process factors.
Jaguar, which Ford sold along with Land Rover for $2.3 billion in 2008, finished with a score of 898. The brand scored well in the salesperson and paperwork/finance process factors, J.D. Power said.
Ford's Mercury brand scored the best for sales satisfaction among mass-market brands, in a new category Power created to make comparisons among brands more equitable.Although 13 luxury brands scored higher on average than 24 mass-market brands -- 864 to 832 on Power's 1,000-point scale -- the ranges overlapped considerably.
“Five of the top 10 are nonluxury brands this year,” said Jon Osborn, research director for J.D. Power.
And although U.S. industry sales have plunged 24 percent this year, customers are more satisfied with the purchasing process.
Scores rose for 29 of the 37 brands -- mostly because, survey respondents say, dealership personnel were more attentive during the buying and delivery processes, Osborn said.
“When someone does come by, dealer personnel can spend more time with them,” he says. “Scores improved on complete explanations during delivery and ‘concerned you stayed within budget.' ”
But more customers surveyed noticed more pressure to buy this year, with almost one in four complaining.
“It's a strange dynamic,” Osborn said. “Dealers want to work with the customer, but they really don't want them to leave.”
Rounding out the top five luxury brands -- which have both the highest overall scores and are the only ones above the study's luxury average -- were Cadillac, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover. Audi, at 828, finished last among the luxury brands and was the only brand in that category with a score below the mass-market average.
Among the mass-market brands, leader Mercury was followed closely by Smart, Buick, Pontiac and Chevrolet.
The bottom five, counting up from Mitsubishi, were Jeep, Dodge, Mazda and Nissan.
Most positions are relatively unchanged from last year, but Mini jumped 49 points and 16 positions to finish No. 6 among mass-market brands, Osborn said.
And Hummer, which is being wound down by General Motors Co., suffered a double loss. Its score fell 25 points -- and it dropped out of the luxury category because its most popular model, the H3, is not considered premium by Power.
Changes in methodology
Although Osborn said the study's overall scores are higher, previous years' raw scores were not directly comparable because Power changed the study's methodology this year to an online format, which tends to result in lower scoring.
Manufacturers follow the Power index.
This morning, GM sales boss Susan Docherty said all four of GM's core brands ranked above average in sales satisfaction by Power.
“One of our key priorities was the restructuring of our dealer network,” Docherty said. “What we need to complete… is the successful wind-down of the dealerships that are not going to be with us going forward and the strengthening of our remaining dealerships.”
She added: “We picked the best and brightest dealers that know how to take care of customers.”
This year's study was based on responses from 48,000 customers who bought or leased a new vehicle in May or June 2009. The index is based on five factors: dealership facility; salesperson; paperwork/finance process; delivery process; and vehicle price.
Chrissie Thompson contributed to this report