2012 U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) Study Results

Jeff Youngs | Nov 28, 2012

Luxury vehicle makes rank notably higher than mass-market makes in overall customer satisfaction with the purchase process, according to the recently released J.D. Power and Associates 2012 U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) Study.SM The study is a comprehensive analysis of the new-vehicle purchase experience, and measures vehicle buyer satisfaction with the selling dealer, as well as satisfaction with vehicle makes and dealerships that were shopped but ultimately rejected. Overall sales satisfaction among both buyers and rejecters averages 664 on a 1,000-point scale in 2012, an improvement of just under 3% from 648 in 2011. Overall satisfaction with the selling dealer averages 776 in 2012, compared with 771 in 2011.

Among buyers, satisfaction is examined across four measures (listed in order of importance): working out the deal (17%); salesperson (13%); delivery process (11%); and facility (10%). Among rejecters, satisfaction is examined across five measures (listed in order of importance): salesperson (20%); fairness of price (12%); facility (6%); inventory (6%); and experience negotiating (5%). In this year's study, satisfaction improves in three of the four measures that examine satisfaction among buyers, with salesperson achieving the highest score.

Mini ranks highest in customer satisfaction among mass-market vehicle brands for a third consecutive year, with a score of 712, based on the ratings of both buyers and rejecters. Buick (706) and GMC (683) follow in the mass-market segment rankings. Honda improves the most among mass-market brands (up 30 index points from 2011) and moves from ranking 12th in 2011 to eighth in 2012.

Lexus ranks highest among luxury brands with the new-vehicle purchase experience for a second consecutive year, with an index score of 737. Infiniti (728) and Cadillac (725) follow in the rankings to round out the three highest-performing luxury brands. Year-over-year sales satisfaction improves the most for Infiniti (+52 index points), which moves from ranking eighth in 2011 to second in 2012.

The 2012 U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) Study is based on responses from 31,386 buyers who purchased or leased their new vehicle in May 2012. The study was fielded between August and October 2012.

According to the study, nearly 80% of new-vehicle buyers used the Internet during their shopping process, among whom nearly one-third consulted online ratings/review sites when selecting a dealer.

"For years, new-vehicle buyers have accessed the Internet to research model information, vehicle features, configurations and pricing," says Chris Sutton, senior director of the Automotive Retail Practice at J.D. Power and Associates. "Now, neutral online ratings/review sites are playing a key role in dealer selection. Whether the online reviews are positive or negative, they impact buyers' willingness to visit a dealer.

"New-vehicle buyers are also using social networks on the Internet to read the reviews and recommendations of other buyers who have experience with a particular dealer, so it would be prudent for dealers to ensure their customers have had a satisfying experience, given their influence on prospective customers."

The study indicates that new-vehicle buyers prefer salespeople who invest the time up front to listen to them and ensure they select the right vehicle. Perceived pressure decreases when sales consultants establish a business relationship and understand buyer needs. Satisfaction with the dealership where rejecters shopped but did not purchase their vehicle improves to 553 in 2012, a 28-point increase from 2011, with significant improvements in each of the five measures.


Consumer Tips for a Satisfying New-Vehicle Sales Experience

J.D. Power and Associates offers the following tips for consumers who are shopping for a new vehicle:

  • Use neutral online rating/review sites as well as social networks to get assessments of both specific vehicle makes and models, and of various dealerships. Satisfaction with the dealer is often almost as important as satisfaction with the vehicle.
  • You're more likely to be happy with the overall experience if you look for the most luxurious vehicle you can afford but with standard equipment (no options), than with a lower-priced vehicle loaded with options.
  • Visit several dealerships and compare models, prices and your experience with the dealer before making up your mind. Walk into each dealership with a good general idea of what you're looking for, what you can afford, and plenty of options to go elsewhere. Know beforehand the points on which you consider room to negotiate.
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