Editor's note: Acura was one of only two nameplates to rise in this year's report. An earlier version of this story misstated the nameplate.
Lexus overtook Mercedes-Benz to come out on top in a recent U.S. customer satisfaction study while recalls and rising prices across the industry are driving down average new-vehicle customer satisfaction scores.
Industrywide, customer satisfaction fell 3.7 percent to 79 on a 100-point scale, the American Customer Satisfaction Index found in this year’s Automobiles Report, released today. That’s the lowest level of customer satisfaction ACSI has reported since 2004.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a ‘bad’ score, I’d say it’s average,” ACSI director David VanAmburg said in an interview today. “In the last decade we saw inflated scores as a result of aggressive insentivizing to get products off lots.”
ACSI’s annual Automobiles Report is based on customer evaluations of automobiles purchased up to three years ago from the largest automakers in terms of market share, plus an aggregate of smaller nameplates.
Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus brand scored 84, achieving this year’s highest customer satisfaction score. This was enough to propel Lexus past the previous winner, Mercedes.
Mercedes’ customer satisfaction fell 3 percent to 83.
The only two nameplates to achieve improvement in customer satisfaction were Acura, up 8 percent to 83, and BMW, up 3 percent to 82.
Of the 27 nameplates the index tracked in the study, 15 saw a decline in customer satisfaction. The other 10 brands were unchanged or their comparisons were not applicable.
Import brands achieved the highest levels of customer satisfaction in this year’s study, imports making up 77 percent of the above-average nameplates.
Ford was the highest-achieving domestic automaker in the study, scoring 81 on the index, while General Motors scored 79 and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles scored 75.
Rising prices and recalls
This is the third year in a row ACSI has reported a decrease in customer satisfaction, but it appears satisfaction levels are actually returning to normal after hitting an all-time high during the recession.
“Higher prices are clearly hurting car buyer satisfaction, but low prices also have artificially inflated satisfaction in the years prior,” VanAmburg said in a statement today. “The government’s Cash for Clunkers program helped push driver satisfaction to its highest level ever in 2009 -- and heavy discounting as the economy recovered kept satisfaction up for a while.”
ACSI reports recall fatigue also appears to be a major factor in declining customer satisfaction.
Last year nearly 64 million vehicles were recalled, and the recalls haven’t slowed down in 2015. ACSI data reveal a 40 percent increase in reported recalls among its survey respondents compared with the second quarter of 2014.
“It might not be right to say ‘sloppy,’ but there is definitely something on the quality side,” VanAmburg said. “When someone has a fever, you figure they must have a virus. As we see all of these recalls, we’re seeing customers take issue with quality.”