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Customer satisfaction with cars drops again

Survey finds buyers are less satisfied with cars than with soft drinks, TVs.

By Douglas Newcomb 15 minutes ago

Photo by Flikr user Stephen ClarksonWhile automakers have been selling more vehicles in the past few years, they’re not making more buyers happy, according to the results of a recent survey. The American Customer Satisfaction Index score for cars and light trucks has dropped for the second straight year.

The overall ACSI score for the industry is now 82 out of 100, a dip of one point from 2013. ACSI scores decreased for the majority (16 out of the 21) of auto brands included in the survey. Only two U.S. nameplates improved their scores: Chevrolet went up 4 percent with the largest gain and Buick increased by a modest 1 percent. The ACSI attempts to "quantify" opinions with a proprietary formula developed by the University of Michigan. As with any nonscientific poll, the ACSI is simply a relative measure of satisfaction (and since ACSI doesn't divulge how it arrives at such numbers, that's all it can be). 

Cadillac plunged 6 percent, while Acura landed at the bottom of the list and had the most drastic decline at 7 percent. But Cadillac and Acura weren’t the lone laggards in the luxury category. The ACSI scores for BMW and Lexus also fell. And although Mercedes-Benz topped the ACSI list with the highest score of any automaker (86), the brand experienced a 2 percent drop from last year.

"That didn't used to be the case, and it suggests that consumers now expect more for their money when they pay a premium price," Claes Fornell, ACSI chairman and founder, said in a statement.

While six of the top seven brands on the 2014 ACSI list are imports, the discrepancy between foreign and domestic vehicles decreased. But that's due to satisfaction with Asian and European cars falling at a more rapid rate than for American brands.

The 2014 ACSI also quantified the influence of the rash of recent recalls on consumer sentiment. It found that car owners who had at least one recall in the past year rated their vehicle 6 percent lower than those who did not. But ACSI added that its survey “tracks cars purchased within the past three years, so the industry-wide deterioration in customer satisfaction is not affected by earlier model recalls.”

While the downward ACSI trend is an overall sign of unhappy buyers, consumers ranked their satisfaction with automobiles way above Internet service providers, which was at the bottom of a list of ACSI’s industry benchmarks. But cars were behind TVs, soft drinks and personal care products.

"We're still pretty high on the overall experience," ACSI director David VanAmburg told CNBC. “Nothing to alarm us here, but in terms of overall satisfaction the edge has been taken off a little bit this year and last.”

[Sources: ACSI, CNBC]

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