The latest American Customer Satisfaction Index for automobiles was just released, and while Asian and European brands continue to out-satisfy American cars, one Japanese company plummeted to the bottom of the rankings.
Acura, the luxury brand offshoot of Honda, moved from a mid-pack ranking of 83 in 2013 to a bottom-feeding 77 in 2014, a drop of 7 percent. The median score for all brands in 2014 is 83, a slight drop from last year. The rankings are based on a maximum score of 100 points.
Maintaining its place at the top of the chart is Mercedes-Benz, although it fell off by two points this year, from 88 to 86.
Customer satisfaction with all brands fell slightly for the second year in a row. The quintessential American brands, Ford, Chrysler and GM, saw their rankings as a group drop to a five-year-low. In fact, seven of the top 10 brands in the rankings are imports.
However, although still trailing Asian and European rivals, American cars did narrow the satisfaction gap somewhat, reducing the lead enjoyed by European marques to 1.5 points, which last year was 2.7 points. Against Korean and Japanese brands, the domestic Big Three brands trailed by only 1.03 points, moving closer than the 2.1 points from last year.
"There are two aspects of these findings that are somewhat unusual," says Claes Fornell, ACSI Chairman and founder. "The first is that although the domestic car industry has deteriorated in customer satisfaction over the past couple of years, the gap to imports has narrowed due the weakening of the latter's customer satisfaction. The other notable finding is that several of the luxury brands do poorly. That didn't use to be the case, and suggests that consumers now expect more for their money when they pay a premium price."
According to ACSI, the voluminous number of recalls this year is impacting customer satisfaction ratings. The report (PDF) states that "Car owners who had at least one recall in the past year rate their vehicle 6 percent lower than those that did not experience a recall."
In general, ACSI reports that weakening customer satisfaction numbers will generate pressure on the economy's ability to spur consumer demand for new vehicles. While new car sales are still growing, the rate of growth has slowed considerably in 2014. ACSI sees this as signs that spending will continue to decrease as falling customer satisfaction scores stall repeat sales and low consumer discretionary income slows first purchases.
Brands that ranked above the median score of 82 include, in order from higher to lower, Mercedes-Benz, Subaru, Lexus, Volkswagen, Toyota, Honda and Buick. Sitting on the demarcation line are GMC, Kia and Chevrolet. Coming in at below average are Ford, Nissan, Chrysler, Hyundai, Cadillac, BMW, Mazda, Audi, Jeep, Dodge and Acura.