Keith Laing, Detroit News Washington Bureau
Consumer satisfaction with cars is on the rise, and customers are most satisfied with Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln brand, according to a survey by the Ann Arbor-based American Customer Satisfaction Index.
Lincoln led the pack with a score of 87 out of 100, which was 5 percent higher than its 2015 approval rating. Honda ranked second with an 8 percent gain to 86, while Toyota and BMW each rose 4 percent, putting them in a tie for third place at 85.
Among the three Michigan-based auto companies, Ford Motor Co. outpaced its domestic competition by receiving a satisfaction score of 84. General Motors Co. received a satisfaction score of 81 and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles received a 78.
Volkswagen, which has been mired in a scandal over its emissions cheating, declined in its satisfaction rating from 80 to 78.
David VanAmburg, ACSI director, said the numbers show Volkswagen may be facing a long road to recovery in the eyes of consumers from its admission that it rigged hundreds of thousands of cars to cheat U.S. emission standards.
“The combination of fines and fallen stock price are a big hit to Volkswagen’s finances, but it may prove even harder to recover from the reputational hit the company will take for deceiving customers and the general public,” VanAmburg said. “Many customers or would-be customers could be turned-off of VW for life and it’s hard to put a value on that.”
Seventy-thousand customers were interviewed about 24 auto brands for the consumer satisfaction survey. Sixteen of the brands showed increases in consumer approval, while five declined — including luxury brands Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz and Acura.
Claes Fornell, ACSI chairman and founder, said the figures show the gap in consumer perception may be closing between mass-market and luxury brands.
“The rise of mass-market vehicles may well be at the expense of luxury brands in the sense that buyers now see little differentiation between luxury cars and regular ones,” Fornell said. “If there is little difference, why pay more? Exclusivity may not be enough.”
VanAmburg said the satisfaction figures show Detroit automakers are catching up to competitors from other countries. Detroit carmakers had an average approval score of 81 percent, compared to cars that were made by Japanese and Korean manufacturers, which received satisfaction scores of 82.
“Year-to-date sales are looking pretty flat, and demand for cars may slacken some,” VanAmburg said. “But the good news for Detroit is that higher levels of customer satisfaction will make it more competitive.”