Customer Satisfaction with New-Vehicle Sales Experience Improves Significantly, Despite Lengthier Sales Process

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Lexus Ranks Highest among Luxury Brands; MINI Ranks Highest among Mass Market Brands for a Second Consecutive Year

Customer satisfaction with the new-vehicle sales experience has improved notably from 2010, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2011 U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) Study.SM The study, based on survey responses from verified new-vehicle owners, is a comprehensive analysis of the purchase experience that measures satisfaction with the selling dealer. It also measures satisfaction with brands and dealerships that were shopped but ultimately rejected.

2011 Lexus GS 460Among buyers, satisfaction is examined across four measures: working out the deal (17%); salesperson (13%); delivery process (11%); and dealership facility (10%). Among rejecters, satisfaction is examined across five measures: salesperson (20%); fairness of price (12%); facility (6%); inventory (6%); and experience negotiating (5%).

Overall sales satisfaction averages 648 on a 1,000-point scale in 2011, improving by 13 points from an average of 635 from 2010. This gain suggests that, as market conditions improve, automotive manufacturers and dealers are placing renewed focus on and providing buyers with a satisfying retail experience, and that they are investing resources toward that goal.

All sales experience measures improve notably from 2010, with the greatest gain in the delivery process-despite the fact that the average length of time to complete the delivery of a new-vehicle has increased by four minutes to an average of 32 minutes in 2011, from an average of 28 minutes in 2010. Overall, the average length of time a buyer spends at the dealership has increased, to an average of 4.3 hours in 2011 from 4.1 hours in 2010.

A primary reason for the longer delivery process is that dealers are providing more in-depth demonstrations of technology in new vehicles (including audio, entertainment, navigation and communications systems). Approximately 88 percent of buyers in 2011 say they received a technology demonstration at vehicle delivery.

"Although technology demonstrations add time to the delivery process, those explanations substantially improve satisfaction, as well as customer loyalty and advocacy," said Jim Gaz, director of automotive research at J.D. Power and Associates. "It would intuitively seem that buyers are most satisfied when the sales process is completed in the shortest amount of time possible. However, buyers actually appreciate when the salesperson spends additional time with them, as long as that time provides added value."

According to Gaz, an increasing proliferation of technology demonstrations may also help improve perceptions of new-vehicle quality. The J.D. Power and Associates U.S. Initial Quality StudySM (IQS) has found that rates of owner-reported problems with audio/entertainment/navigation technology systems have increased steadily between 2009 and 2011. Some of these perceived problems may stem from a lack of understanding among users about how to operate new features, so technology demos provided by sales staff can be a powerful tool in lowering problem rates and improving satisfaction with vehicle design.

Lexus Ranks Highest among Luxury Brands

Lexus ranks highest among luxury brands in satisfaction with the new-vehicle buying experience. Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz follow in the luxury segment rankings. The luxury brands with the greatest improvement from 2010 are Lincoln (moving from ninth rank position to sixth) and Audi (moving from 11th rank position to ninth).

2011 Mini CooperMini Ranks Highest among Mass Market Brands for a Second Consecutive Year

Mini ranks highest among mass market brands for a second consecutive year. Buick and GMC, respectively, follow Mini in the mass market rankings. The mass market brands with the greatest improvement from 2010 are Volkswagen (moving from 13th rank position to fourth), Scion (moving from 11th rank position to fifth) and Nissan (moving from 18th rank position to 12th).

The following tips may be helpful to consumers when buying a car:

  • Do your homework. Know enough about the vehicle, accessories, and the price to recognize when you are getting a fair deal. Use the same approach on the value of your trade-in vehicle. Remember that a "fair deal" must also include some level of profit for the dealership, which they need to sustain their operations.
  • Investigate if there are any factory or dealer incentives being offered. There are a variety of sources for this information, including automaker websites, online automotive blogs and buying services, and some industry publications.
  • Be prepared to walk away. This is the ultimate tool in your negotiation "toolbox." If the vehicle, price or treatment does not meet your needs, then try another dealer. You can always return to the original dealer should you choose.
  • Ask questions. You are about to make a financial commitment to a vehicle that will impact you for the next 2 to 5 years. Be sure you understand exactly what you are buying (including the vehicle itself, the financial aspects and terms of the deal, and the service that the dealer provides for maintenance and repair).
  • Know your credit score before you go. Or, better yet, get pre-qualified for a loan before you shop.
  • Take advantage of the time with your salesperson at delivery. Have all of the vehicle's features explained to you in detail. If you have questions or are unsure about something, don't be hesitant to ask for a more detailed explanation.

About the Study

The 2011 U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) Study is based on responses from 24,045 buyers who purchased or leased their new vehicle in May 2011. The study was fielded between August and October 2011.

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