US Car Quality Getting Better As Sales Disintegrate

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The New York Times got ahold of an early version of the 2009 new vehicle study done by The University of Michigan Customer Satisfaction Index.

The paper reports that “in the rankings by brand, G.M.’s Cadillac tied for first place with its chief competitor, Lexus, while Buick and Lincoln-Mercury placed third and fourth, meaning that domestic brands accounted for three of the top four.”

Unfortunately, the improved perception of these products has not translated into sales, which means that there is a chance that it never will.

GM data shows that sales of Cadillacs dropped 63% in July and were down 46% to 54,754 for the first seven months of 2009.  Buick sales were down 33% for the same period to 54,322. That is slightly better than the GM total for those months, but only barely.

It is hard to say why cars that have good images don’t sell well. There is a theory that people do not want to buy vehicles from companies that may go out of business. There may be an element of patriotism in the survey results. American want to speak well of American products, particularly when the firms that make them are doing poorly.

The 2010 model yeas begins in a month and GM and Chrysler are back on their feet. Ford (F) has shown promising sales for the last 90 days and may be taking significant market share from the Japanese.

If the perception that American cars are improving in quality is real, it will show in the numbers, but  sentiment has so far not turned into action.

Douglas A. McIntyre