You Can Get Satisfaction

Some say you can't always get what you want, but you just might get what you need. True as that is in some areas of life, it is far from the truth in the automobile business these days. The fact is, this intensely competitive global business is offering its customers the best products ever. In other words, you can get what you want and what you need.

As vivid proof, take the most recent study of consumers' satisfaction with their new vehicles, as released by noted automotive consulting firm AutoPacific, Inc. The firm's VSS (Vehicle Satisfaction Score) study is an industry benchmark for objective new vehicle buyer and lessee satisfaction. VSS ratings record satisfaction with vehicles overall, as well as in 43 specific areas related to each vehicle's operation, comfort, and safety, plus the purchase/lease experience. The ratings reflect input from over 34,000 owners of new vehicles acquired September-November 2001. The survey was fielded in February of this year, so the results represent opinions formed after fewer than six months of ownership and with the acquisition process still relatively fresh in consumers' minds.

With this as background, it is not surprising that two brands known for both vehicle quality and painless purchase/lease processes share top ratings in 2002, namely, Cadillac and Lexus. Both have been in this exalted position before. Cadillac was top-rated in 2001 and Lexus in 2000.

The individual vehicle model registering highest overall satisfaction for a third consecutive year is Lexus' LS-series sedan, now called the LS 430. That ranking came as little surprise, but the big surprise, at least to those who have not had their index finger on the pulse of the industry, is that the highest-rated truck is a Cadillac, namely the extensively upgraded Escalade sport utility vehicle.

The individual segment leaders come from a wide cross-section of vehicle manufacturers from around the globe. The Toyota/Lexus juggernaut was the top scorer in category wins with the Lexus ES 300, Lexus SC 430, Toyota Prius, Toyota Highlander, Toyota Tacoma and Toyota Avalon joining the Lexus LS 430 at the top of their individual segments. (The Avalon and Highlander gained top marks in ties with, respectively, the Cadillac DeVille and Hyundai Santa Fe.)

While the Toyota triumph was not unexpected, what was less expected was the strong showing by much-maligned General Motors. GM scored segment victories with the aforementioned DeVille, as well as the Cadillac Escalade and Chevrolet Silverado HD. Perhaps even more surprising was the emergence of Hyundai/Kia as a force to be reckoned with in vehicle satisfaction. Hyundai scored segment wins with its Sonata mid-size sedan and Santa Fe SUV, while Hyundai Motor Group-controlled Kia took top honors in the hotly contested minivan segment with the recently introduced Sedona.

Other segment leaders were the Volkswagen Beetle (compact car), Nissan Altima (premium mid-size car), Mercury Cougar (sporty car), and Volvo V70XC (all-wheel-drive sport wagon). Among trucks the Honda CR-V was the highest-rated compact SUV; the Ford Excursion was the top large SUV; and the Dodge Ram 1500 Quad Cab was the best four-door pickup.

Obviously these days buyers have the choice of a great variety of highly satisfying vehicles from a number of manufacturers. Now that's what the car buyers needs.

Villeperce, France-based Tom Ripley knows more than a little about satisfaction, having studied the automobile business and the human condition for more than three decades.