Customer Satisfaction with New Luxury Cars Hits the Skids

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Louis Lanzano/AP
Mercedes continues to top a closely watched rating of customer satisfaction with their cars. No surprise there. But some other luxury brands have fallen to the bottom of the rankings, including Acura, BMW, Audi and Cadillac.

Overall, the American Customer Satisfaction Index declined for a second straight year. Satisfaction scores rose to historic high following the Great Recession, as the Detroit Three automakers -- General Motors (GM), Ford (F) and Chrysler -- used big price incentives to lure in customers. The government was also providing tax incentives. Sales boomed, and buyers were happy with the cars and trucks they bought, believing that they got good value on their purchase.

However, over the past few years, automakers have reduced the number and size of buyer incentives. "Much of customer satisfaction is driven by price incentives, and as those have gone away, satisfaction has diminished," said Forrest Morgeson, director of research for the index.

ACSI Automobile Report 2014
ACSI Automobile Report 2014
Reputations of Imported Cars Decline More

The score for 16 of the 21 brands measured declined, with imports from Europe and Asia taking the biggest hit. "That's a win for the domestic automakers," said Morgeson, "just to close that gap a little bit." The only brands with higher scores compared to last year are Chevrolet and Buick.

At the top of the rankings, Mercedes-Benz fell 2 percent from a year ago, with a score of 86 (on a 100-point scale). Subaru received the second-highest rating, followed by Lexus, Volkswagen, Toyota (TM) and Honda (HMC). Buick was tied with Toyota and Honda, making it the only domestic brand to beat the industry average of 82.

It's unusual to see luxury brands falling to the bottom of the ratings, and Morgeson said it's "not a good sign for their future success, if that holds." Historically, foreign and luxury brands have dominated the ACSI rankings.

BMW fell only 2 points from last year, "but still, you'd expect a luxury brand to be closer to Mercedes than to Chrysler," according to Morgeson. Not surprisingly, consumers expect more for their money when they pay a premium price.

Acura fell 7 points, falling into last place in the rankings with a score of just 77. Researchers point out that this is only the second year Acura has been included in the rankings, so it's numbers could fluctuate.

"As products across the board become better and better, consumers expect quality to be better," said Morgeson. "Manufacturers have in essence set a higher bar."

Impact of Vehicle Recalls

Another factor that has hurt the satisfaction scores is the record number of vehicle recalls over the past year. The ACSI ratings cover vehicles sold in the past three years, and although most of the biggest recalls cover autos the predate that, the publicity surrounding the recalls has had an impact. "If you haven't been living in a cave, it can't help but tarnish the broader image of General Motors and others," according to Morgeson.

Auto sales have been very strong throughout this year, running an annual rate of about 16 million. If that continues, we're likely to see a flood of used cars hit the market, giving buyers more alternatives and making it harder for the automakers to live up to customer expectations, which are closely tied to price.

Morgeson says the two-year decline in overall customer satisfaction is not enough to signal any long term trend, but it is a warning that automakers need to take seriously. He says they can't afford to lose satisfaction to rival brands.

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I have an Acura MDX and I am very unhappy with the suspension, rear alignment poor design and mirrors that stick in cold weather, then the software hangs, and the vehicle doesn't recognize the driver. I reported this to Acura America, who never heard of it. I told them to go across the hall and talk to the Acura reps from Canada, told they couldn't do it. Summary, live with it.
Well, I won't live with it much longer.

August 31 2014 at 2:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
raymond brann

It won't be a happy labor day until i hear encouraing recovery of Joan Rivers At my age of 97 i knew Joan from her beginning. She gave us plenty of laughs
Please Joan lets have a quick recovery

August 30 2014 at 12:47 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

When virtually ALL cars fall from favor, even Jeep with outstanding quaiity and owner loyalty, it probably has nothng to do with quality, but is based upon price resistance.

As long as auto makers continue to try to make them MORE THAN WE WANT terms of electonic tech, I will resist new cars.

I don't need a GPS, I know where I am going from coast to coast. I don't want to watch TV. or listen to satellite radio (one of the great joys on a trip is litening to local stations and commecials). I don't want rear view TV, I have gotten very good wiith mirrors.
Why don't they 'get it" We just want a good performing, comfortable and effieicnt way to get from one place to another.

August 30 2014 at 12:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My family have always purchased an American vehicle without any problems. We look at the sticker to see where everything is made. Will never buy a foreign name plate no matterwhere the vehicle is assembled.

August 30 2014 at 12:16 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

The Lexus is no more than a Toyota with a fancy name. The ES series is the Camry Body and the GS is the Avalon body of a Toyota. They all look the same just has Lexus on it.

August 30 2014 at 3:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I bought a new Mercedes in 2003. Great car to drive, but every year something electronic broke. After 7 years the extended warranty ended, something still broke each year. It stranded me in the farm country once, but the last straw was when the battery and the alternator crapped out in the middle of a downpour and the the wipers stopped. I was going 70mph on the freeway.

I sold the car the next day, I did not want to loose my life because of some weird electric problem. It only had 100K on it. I will never buy another Mercedes.

I replaced it with a new Fiat 500. I don't expect the Fiat to be trouble free, but up to this point it has been perfect. It gets 43 Mpg on the highway and costs almost nothing to own. If it wears out after 5 years, I won't car because it's so inexpensive and so much fun to drive. I'm always pushing it to the limit, and nobody ever notices; what a blast.

August 29 2014 at 11:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to digitalmag's comment

FWIW, I like our Ford products too.

a. 2007 4x4 hybrid SUV
b. 2010 Fusion hybrid
c. 2010 Muskrat prem. GT convertible

Our next vehicle will not be a Luxury anything.

August 29 2014 at 10:52 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to rbearland's comment

Love my '07 Mustango convertible. Installed a Roush supercharger, and this car hauls!

August 29 2014 at 12:52 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to chris1011's comment

We have a 2013 Shelby GT500, 662 hp

August 30 2014 at 3:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
In My Opinion Only

I love my 2005 Mustang Premire V-6 convertible. Trouble free at 65.000 miles now. 1993 Cadillac Seville with 4.9 at 155K miles still running. Both on sythetic oil.

August 30 2014 at 10:44 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

lexus rx 350 (2014) faulty brake pedal in all vehicles(Lemon)

August 29 2014 at 10:16 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I like my Ford cars.....

August 29 2014 at 9:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And the wimmer is: GM.

August 29 2014 at 7:38 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply