Delighting Their Owners

Sometimes it is hard enough to satisfy a car buyer, but now auto manufacturers have a new target to shoot for -- delighting their buyers. San Diego-based research firm Strategic Vision has determined that satisfying new vehicle owners is not enough, so it has announced its new Total Delight Index (TDI) to help automotive product planners design delightful vehicles that will bring the commitment and loyalty their brands need in a competitive marketplace.

What the research firm has discovered is that satisfying customers -- even satisfying them completely, according to their own responses -- does not guarantee that those customers will return to that brand to purchase another vehicle.

"'Satisfaction,' even 'completely satisfied,' meant the manufacturer merely had fulfilled the basic contract with the customer," said Dr. Darrel Edwards, Strategic Vision president. "Satisfaction thus became the midpoint of our delight index. Delight is a more positive and more emotional response than simply excellent. You can create an excellent vehicle without delighting the customer. When you do delight your customer, you create a strong emotional response that commits the customer to the product, brand or manufacturer. That leads to loyalty, when the customer chooses the brand whenever possible."

In layman's terms "automotive delight" translates to drivers that love their cars. They don't just find their vehicles to be perfectly acceptable transportation; they relate to their vehicles on an emotional level and often feel their vehicles express who they are.

A sample of the "most delightful list" will give a feel for the vehicles that provoke this emotional response. The highest scorer on the index was the 2002 BMW 7 Series, and the BMW 3 Series and BMW X5 sport utility vehicle also led their segments, as did the BMW-built Mini Cooper. Honda also had four segment leaders in TDI: the Insight hybrid-powered car that led the small car segment, Accord Coupe, Odyssey minivan and CR-V small sport utility. Toyota showed its muscle in truck categories, with the Sequoia large SUV, Tacoma compact pickup and Tundra full-size pickup heading their classes.

Among domestics, the retrostyle Chrysler PT Cruiser was the most delightful compact car, according to those who bought it. Among the other segment leaders from the domestic manufacturers, though, were two vehicles that apparently appeal to rugged individualists. The Oldsmobile Aurora and Pontiac Firebird are about to be phased out as is the complete Oldsmobile division, but their owners still express undying affection for their vehicles. Tellingly, Ford Motor Company had no vehicles that led their segments in TDI.

"The auto industry talks a lot about 'delighting your customers,'" said Daniel Gorrell, Strategic Vision vice president and partner-in-charge, automotive, "but nobody had created a means of explicitly measuring this facet. Creating delight is critical to all manufacturers forced to intensively compete in a crowded market place. For some, creating delight is crucial or they face the risk of losing market share or even going out of business."

The index was calculated from the responses of more than 76,665 buyers of new 2002-model vehicles who made their purchases between October 2001 and March of 2002. They had at least 90 days to experience their vehicles before they were surveyed.

The top two delight leaders in their segments and their respective TDI scores were:
Small Car Honda Insight 593; Suzuki Aerio 569
Compact Car Chrysler PT Cruiser 587; Volkswagen Jetta 560
Mid-Size Car Volkswagen Passat 651; Nissan Altima 620
Larger Car Oldsmobile Aurora 515; Chrysler Concorde 485
Small Specialty
(less than $25k)
Mini Cooper 705; Volkswagen New Beetle 697
Mid-Specialty Car Honda Accord Coupe 601; Mercury Cougar 578
Near-Luxury Car BMW 3 Series 695; Lexus ES 300 686
Luxury Car BMW 7 Series 775; BMW 5 Series 764
(less than $30,000)
Pontiac Firebird 638; Chevrolet Camaro 577
Audi TT 760; Lexus SC 430 751
Minivan Honda Odyssey 458; Kia Sedona 452
Small SUV Honda CR-V 542; Hyundai Santa Fe 536
Medium SUV Land Rover Discovery Series II 537; GMC Envoy
Large SUV Toyota Sequoia 602; Ford Excursion 559
Luxury SUV BMW X5 710; Cadillac Escalade 681; Lexus RX 300
Compact Pickup Toyota Tacoma 464; Dodge Dakota 459
Full-Size Pickup Toyota Tundra 581; Dodge Ram 1500 570