U.S. customers are happiest with vehicles from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Volkswagen and General Motors, according to a survey of new car and light-truck buyers.
FCA, Volkswagen Group of America and GM were the top three overall scores in the survey, Strategic Vision’s Total Quality Index, with FCA nabbing the highest score for the first time.
“FCA has incrementally risen from one segment leader in 2010 to six segment leaders in 2015,” Christopher Chaney, Strategic Vision’s senior vice president, said in a statement. “Though at Strategic Vision we often preach about looking forward, it’s hard to not be in admiration of the turnaround achieved by FCA employees.”
FCA models placed first in several of Strategic Vision’s product segments:
• Small multi-function car: Fiat 500
• Small alternative-powered car: Fiat 500e
• Specialty coupe: Dodge Challenger
• Full-size car: Dodge Charger
• Entry SUV: Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
• Midsize SUV: Dodge Durango
Strategic Vision, a research company based in San Diego, conducts the quality study annually to identify and track vehicle problems and overall customer experience. The results are based on more than 46,000 responses from new car or light truck customers who have owed the vehicle for 90-120 days.
“Simply counting problems once had a place in history, but today, knowing what creates love and that which enhances the customer’s perception of quality are key to determining what is best,” Strategic Vision President Alexander Edwards said in a statement.
Domestic brand success
The Chevrolet Colorado led the way in the study’s standard pickup segment, becoming the first domestic model to top the segment in more than a decade. The GMC Sierra 2500/3500 received the highest score in the heavy-duty pickup segment.
Another winner among domestic brands was Ram, nabbing the “best brand” title. Land Rover was named best luxury brand.
GM, along with FCA, had several segment leaders.
Chaney said in an interview that domestic brands’ readiness to embrace new technology is a driving factor in customer satisfaction. Customers are increasingly interested in the technology a vehicle offers, and those offerings can sometimes be a difference maker.
“There’s been a slow progression among domestic brands, but the thing driving success now is that domestic brands are more willing to take a chance and put technological innovation in their vehicles,” Chaney said. “It’s risky to do that, but someone has to step up and do it.”
The research firm first released the Total Quality Index in 1995.
Despite the success of domestic brands in this year’s study, European brands still took the most segments with 13 wins. Domestic brands were in a close second with 11 wins, while Asian brands were third with 10.
Trouble at the dealership
Customer attitudes about new vehicles have been progressively more positive in recent years, Chaney said, but dealership experiences are becoming increasingly negative.
In the open-ended responses Strategic Vision received from survey participants, poor dealership experience was a hot topic.
“I attribute that to the amount of information that is out there for customers now,” Chaney said. “Customers are smarter than ever, so they’re looking out for deception and bad deals … they can figure out those issues pretty quickly.”
Other segment winners:
• Small car: Mazda Mazda3
• Midsize car: Subaru WRX
• Midsize alternative-powered car: Honda Accord Hybrid sedan
• Near-luxury car: Mercedes CLA
• Near-luxury alternative-powered car: BMW i3
• Luxury car: Mercedes S class
• Luxury multifunctional car: BMW 3-series wagon
• Premium coupe: Hyundai Genesis
• Standard convertible: Mini Cooper Roadster
• Premium convertible roadster: Chevrolet Corvette convertible
• Full-size pickup: Nissan Titan
• Entry CUV: Buick Encore and Volkswagen Tiguan
• Midsize CUV: Nissan Murano
• Full-size utility vehicle: GMC Yukon XL
• Near-luxury utility vehicle: BMW X4
• Luxury SUV: Cadillac Escalade
• Luxury CUV: BMW X5
• Minivan: Honda Odyssey
• Top overall model: Mini Cooper Roadster