Looking for a Satisfying New-Car Deal?

If there is a silver lining to the deep recession we find ourselves in, it might be the fact that this year’s car-buyers are more satisfied with the actual buying process than they have been in the past.  At least that is the conclusion to be drawn from looking at a summary of the just-released J.D. Power and Associates Sales Satisfaction index (SSI), a measure of customer attitudes about the vehicle-buying process.  It does not capture consumer attitudes about the vehicles bought; J.D. Power has a couple of other indices that look more deeply at that part of the process.

A key finding was that consumers felt better about the way things went for them in the dealership this past year than they had in prior years.  The vast majority of vehicle brands – 29 out of a total of 37 – saw an increase in their overall score, indicating more favorable response from consumers.  The major reason for the uptick was that consumers reported that dealer sales personnel spent more time with them during the purchase and vehicle delivery processes, which was very likely the direct result of the fact there were fewer customers overall.  In the past 12 months sales are down some 25 percent from their year-ago levels, so the buyers who actually showed up in dealerships were treated better.  But at the same time, vehicle buyers reported that dealership personnel were more desperate and put on more sales pressure.  Again, this likely stems from the fact that there were fewer buyers, so salespeople became very reluctant to see a hot (or lukewarm) prospect leave without buying a car.

This year study marked the first time that an Indian-owned brand topped the list in sales satisfaction among American consumers.  Jaguar, which was acquired by India-based Tata Motors last year from Ford Motor Company, took the number one spot in sales satisfaction.  The brand has had a history of success in that category, winning top honors five out of the past six years.  Jaguar’s overall Index score was 898, largely driven by high marks for Jaguar salespeople and a smooth and consumer-friendly paperwork and finance process factors.

For the first time J.D. Power split the results of the 13 “luxury” brands and the “mass market” brands.  Though Ford executives probably wish Mercury’s mass market were a little more massive, the brand did bring home the crown in the mass market portion of the survey.  Interestingly, of the top 10 brands overall, five were luxury brands and five were mass market brands, which means some luxury brands really have some work to do. The top five luxury brands were Jaguar, Cadillac, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover. Among the mass-market brands, the top five were Mercury, Smart, Buick, the now-defunct Pontiac brand and Chevrolet.

Which brands might you stay away from if you’re looking for satisfaction with the buying and delivery process?  The bottom five brands were (in ascending order) Mitsubishi, Jeep, Dodge, Mazda and Nissan.  Audi was the lowest-ranking luxury brand.

The study was based on responses from 48,000 customers who bought or leased a new vehicle in May or June of this year, and for the first time the study was done online. The index ranks brands on five factors of sales satisfaction that include: dealership facility, salesperson, paperwork/finance process, delivery process, and vehicle price.