Volvo, Lexus, Subaru Satisfy Car-Buyers Best, Study Says

American Customer Satisfaction Index shows Americans like their cars a little more

Volvo satisfies consumers

People are liking their cars little more this year than last. That is the conclusion to be drawn from the just-announced 2018 ACSI Automobile Report of the American Customer Satisfaction Index measuring car-buyer satisfaction. Consumers’ overall satisfaction with their automobiles (cars and light trucks) rose 1.2 percent to 82 on the ACSI scale of 0 to 100. That would give cars a solid “B” grade if they were in high school.

This year Volvo tied Lexus for best luxury automaker in car-buyer satisfaction while Subaru took over the lead among mass-market brands.

European brands outshine others in overall satisfaction

Despite some complaints about vehicle quality European cars are the most satisfying as a group. Collectively European brands turned in a score of 82. Asian (Japanese and Korean) automakers trailed the Europeans by one point, slipping to 81 this year. U.S. manufacturers placed last at 79, losing ground for the second consecutive year.

Among U.S. automakers, Ford held steady at 81, taking first place after GM dipped to 80. Fiat Chrysler improved to 78, but remained in third place among the “domestic” manufacturers.

While both product and service quality improved for the industry overall, according to the study, this year’s rise in driver satisfaction was largely the result of “better value.”

“Car owners are often highly satisfied. They’ve kicked the tires enough times that they’re happy with their decision when they buy,” said David VanAmburg, Managing Director at ACSI. “But this year’s improvements might not last. Proposed tariffs on auto imports add to the pressure of rising metal costs for both international automakers and American-made cars using foreign parts. We’ll be watching how the threat of higher prices affects customer satisfaction in the coming year.”

Subaru takes crown among mass-market brands

Subaru took the top spot among non-luxury brands despite dropping one percentage point to an ACSI score of 84. That was good enough for first place because last year’s leader, Toyota, tumbled three points to 83. That put Toyota in a tie for second place with Honda, which improved two percentage points.

Volkswagen is one of the most improved mass-market brands, gaining four percentage points for a score of 82. The improvement in the wake of the diesel engine scandal followed a number of changes VW made in an effort to improve satisfaction. It doubled the length of its warranties, invested in new technologies and offers fuel economy that drivers say is now among the best in the industry. The automaker’s recent success with consumers is driven largely by its new and renewed SUVs like the Atlas and Tiguan. It is gaining market share in that hot portion of the market.

Fiat was another big gainer among brands in car-buyer satisfaction with a rise of four percentage points to 78, showing the most improvement along with Volkswagen, but it remained near the bottom of the mass-maker brands. Dodge and Ford tied at 77 but moved in opposite directions. Dodge, a Fiat-Chrysler brand,  gained three percent while Ford brand fell three percent. Chrysler brand tumbled six percent to a 74 for last place.

Eight companies tied at a below-average score of 80 — MINI, Ram, Buick, Jeep, Nissan, GMC Hyundai and Mazda. GMC was the biggest loser among the group, falling five points. Hyundai dropped four points. Kia also dropped four points to 79, joining Chevrolet and Mitsubishi.

Volvo set pace for luxury brands in satisfaction

Volvo was the big winner among luxury brands, gaining four points for an ACSI score of 85, which put it in a first-place tie with Lexus. Lincoln was the top-rated U.S. luxury automaker, up one percent to 84. Audi also gained one percent to score an 83.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index has been a national economic indicator for almost 25 years. It measures and analyzes customer satisfaction with more than 380 companies in 46 industries.

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