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Lincoln tops US customer satisfaction index

Customer appeal: The MKZ mid-size luxury sedan has played a key role in keeping Lincoln sales afloat and owner satisfaction high, and the new 2013 model should continue the trend.

Ford luxury brand tops 2012 ACSI despite falling sales as Toyota, Honda lose ground

General News logo24 Aug 2012

FORD Motor Company’s luxury brand Lincoln has emerged as the surprise top brand in the 2012 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), overtaking last year’s joint winners Cadillac, Lexus and Toyota to rank highest in the influential annual survey.

Brands selling luxury cars unsurprisingly dominated in the rankings, which are based on customer evaluations of vehicle quality derived from interviews with around 70,000 consumers in the US.

Although Lincoln sales are down two per cent this year and have fallen sharply in recent years, the brand’s five per cent increase in the ACSI survey to 90 points (out of a possible 100) is likely to reflect a loyal but dwindling customer base, according to the report.

Despite gaining two per cent, the Toyota’s luxury brand Lexus was relegated to second place on 89 points and GM’s Buick nameplate, which also improved by two per cent, was a point further back on 87.

Already enjoying a 23 per cent sales increase in the US this year, Subaru matched Buick’s mark to become the best-performing mainstream brand in the ACSI survey, a point ahead of BMW and Cadillac and two points clear of Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Hyundai and Toyota, the latter falling two per cent despite resurgent sales this year after 2011’s natural-disaster-related setbacks.

 center imageFrom top: ACSI founder Claes Fornell US-spec Subaru Impreza Lexus GS.

Chevrolet rose two per cent to match the industry average of 84 points – the equal-highest average the index has ever reached, up from 83 last year and 82 in 2010 – while below that line on 83 were Ford, Jeep, Nissan and Honda, the latter dropping two per cent to fall below average for the first time since the index was established in 1994.

ACSI founder Claes Fornell said that although Japanese brands had returned production to normal following last year’s disasters, quality issues were now affecting Honda and Toyota in particular.

“While Japan’s production is back on track after last year’s earthquake and tsunami, both Toyota and Honda have had quality issues as they race to recapture market share,” Dr Fornell said.

“These two auto-makers, once known for setting the bar for quality, have issued a large number of recalls over the past year.

“ACSI data show that recalls for quality defects have a negative impact on customer satisfaction for automobile manufacturers.”

Dr Fornell said it was “good news” that the index was showing that customer satisfaction overall in the US was not contracting and remained at a “generally high level”, which was an important indicator in showing a positive outlook for consumer demand and economic recovery.

The last time the ACSI industry average was at 84 points was in 2009 when the US auto sector was pulling itself out of the global financial crisis and winning customer support through aggressive dealer incentives and the government’s ‘cash for clunkers’ scrappage scheme.

“The difference between the industry’s high marks for customer satisfaction in 2012 versus 2009 is that customers are responding to better quality rather than price promotions,” Dr Fornell said.

“Overall industry sales are up compared to a year ago despite higher prices. An ongoing commitment to quality seems like a workable formula for sustaining both customer satisfaction and sales growth.”

The US motor market is currently up 14 per cent this year, although the sales pace is slowing in the second half.

Chrysler Group’s markedly improved sales performance this year was also reflected in a substantial increase on the customer service index.

Although it remains behind Ford and General Motors – and below the all-important industry average – the Chrysler Group as a whole surged four per cent on the back of a five per cent climb for Jeep (to 83 points) and three per cent improvements for Dodge and Chrysler, to 81 and 78 points respectively.

Mazda and Kia were also both below average on 82 points and at the low end of the industry list, although Mazda’s result was a four per cent improvement on last year. Kia’s result was a one per cent gain on 2011.

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