For the third consecutive year, customer satisfaction with new cars has fallen off, and the average score for all vehicles has dropped to its lowest level since 2004. The drop has been attributed to the record number of manufacturer recalls, which rose 40% to nearly 64 million vehicles, and to rising prices for new cars.
The data were reported Tuesday morning by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), which covers 27 automobile nameplates in its 2015 report. Of the total, 15 received lower scores this year and only two saw an increase. The overall average dropped from 82 last year to 79 this year, a decline of 3.7% in customer satisfaction.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. (NYSE: FCAU) propped up the entire list, taking the lowest three spots in the rankings. The company’s Fiat brand scored 73 out of 100 possible points to post the lowest ranking, with the Chrysler nameplate scoring a 74 and the Jeep brand scoring 75. A year ago the Jeep brand scored 79 and the Chrysler brand scored 81.
The highest rated brand was Lexus from Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) with a score of 84, followed by the Acura brand from Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (NYSE: HMC), the Lincoln nameplate from Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) and Mercedes-Benz from Germany’s Daimler, which all scored 83. Acura improved its score by 8%, rising from 77 a year ago.
The top-ranked brand from General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) is Buick with a score of 80, down 4% from its score of 83 a year ago. BMW was the only other carmaker to improve its year-over-year score, rising from 80 a year ago to 82 this year. Subaru, Toyota and Hyundai nameplates scored 82, 82 and 81, respectively.
Along with Buick with its score of 80 were Cadillac, Honda, Mazda and Volkswagen. Chevrolet, Ford and Volvo brands all scored 79.
Of the vehicles that scored above the average score of 79, more than three-quarters were foreign-made, with Japanese and Korean makers outperforming both European and U.S. automakers. U.S. carmakers posted a five-year low.
An ACSI executive said:
Higher prices are clearly hurting car buyer satisfaction, but low prices also have artificially inflated satisfaction in the years prior. The government’s Cash for Clunkers program helped push driver satisfaction to its highest level ever in 2009 – and heavy discounting as the economy recovered kept satisfaction up for a while. The customer satisfaction levels the auto industry is seeing now are more consistent with historical ACSI data.
The following chart shows the five-year trends for the major U.S. carmakers.