In Unsatisfactory Economy, Satisfaction Is Key

General Motors might be in bankruptcy, but its Cadillac brand is not bankrupt in terms of customer satisfaction. For the second straight year, Cadillac ranked highest among new-car owners in the prestigious AutoPacific Annual Vehicle Satisfaction Awards (VSA). Cadillac was able to capture the Highest Satisfaction Brand honors even with the turmoil surrounding General Motors and the industry as a whole.

While the current negative economic news has put a pall over the industry, other brands found reasons to smile as well. Riding the strength of its choice as the North American Car of the Year, Hyundai saw its overall brand satisfaction ratings jump 11 positions, earning it 2009 Rising Star honors. The Korean manufacturer’s move up topped the improvements by any manufacturer in the survey, and the Hyundai brand scored higher in 40 of 48 rating categories in 2009 compared with 2008. Two Hyundai products took individual Vehicle Satisfaction Awards this year: the Genesis in the Aspirational Luxury Car category and the Sonata in the Premium Midsize Car class.

“These are difficult times, with news of automaker bankruptcies, companies restructuring and dealer closures a daily occurrence,” said George Peterson, president of AutoPacific. “Clearly, the dynamics surrounding the Vehicle Satisfaction Award in 2009 are far different from anything we’ve seen in many years. Winners needed to overachieve to earn their awards.”

While Hyundai shocked some skeptics with its meteoric rise, a well-established name topped the leader board among individual models. The Lexus LS was the vehicle that registered the highest overall satisfaction in 2009. The LS, a large luxury sedan, scored 99 points above the industry average to place first among all 2009-model-year vehicles. The truck or SUV with the highest overall satisfaction score was the Cadillac Escalade luxury sport-utility, contributing to Cadillac’s win as the top-ranked brand for vehicle satisfaction.

As an indicator of just how competitive today’s auto market is, Vehicle Satisfaction Awards went to 10 different manufacturers. Global sales leader Toyota led the pack with six winners (Toyota 3, Lexus 2, Scion 1), Ford had four (Ford 3, Lincoln 1), Hyundai/Kia had three (Hyundai 2, Kia 1), Chrysler had two (Dodge 1, Jeep 1) and General Motors also had two (Cadillac 1, Chevrolet 1). Honda, Land Rover, Mitsubishi, Porsche and Volkswagen each took top honors in one segment.

The buyers of vehicles included in the Vehicle Satisfaction research purchased or leased their new vehicles during the fourth quarter of 2008. The relatively new owners judge their vehicles on value and satisfaction across a wide range of attributes. The winners were vehicles that performed well in 48 separate categories that objectively measure the ownership experience. Below is a list of the top 2009-model-year performers:

Highest Satisfaction Brand: Cadillac

2009 Rising Star: Hyundai

Individual Segment Award Winners, Passenger Cars
Premium Luxury Car: Lexus LS
Aspirational Luxury Car: Hyundai Genesis
Luxury Large Car: Lincoln Town Car
Luxury Midsize Car: Lexus ES
Premium Midsize Car: Hyundai Sonata
Midsize Car: Ford Fusion
Image Compact Car: Toyota Prius
Compact Car: Mitsubishi Lancer
Economy Car: Honda Fit
Sports Car: Porsche 911
Sporty Car: Scion tC 

Individual Segment Award Winners, Light Trucks
Large Pickup: Dodge Ram 1500
Compact Pickup: Ford Explorer Sport Trac
Luxury Sport Utility: Cadillac Escalade
Large Sport Utility: Chevrolet Tahoe
Premium Midsize Sport Utility: Ford Explorer
Midsize Sport Utility: Jeep Liberty
Luxury Crossover SUV: Land Rover LR2
Large Crossover SUV: Mazda CX-9
Premium Midsize Crossover SUV: Toyota Venza
Midsize Crossover SUV: Volkswagen Tiguan
Compact Crossover SUV: Kia Sportage
Minivan: Toyota Sienna