Cadillac joined Lexus as the brand with the most-pleased customers this year, as Detroit makes held three of the top five posts in an annual University of Michigan study of customer satisfaction.
Cadillac rose from No. 2 last year to match Lexus with a score of 89 in the American Customer Satisfaction Index, released Tuesday. The industrywide tally was 84, or 2.4 percent above last year's and an all-time high for the index, begun in 1994.
Customer satisfaction for all Detroit brands grew from just over 81 last year to just below Asian automakers' score of 84. European companies topped the ranking with 86. This year's near-parity with Asian companies marks the closest the Detroit-based automakers have come to that group of rivals since outscoring them in 2000.
Claes Fornell, director of the University of Michigan's national quality research center, said part of the Detroit makes' increased satisfaction stems, oddly, from declining sales. As less-satisfied customers don't return to automakers, the remaining customer base is smaller but more satisfied, Fornell said.
"This is going to be more sustainable than having a large, diversified mass of buyers, who tend to be less satisfied than the customers of competition," he said. "Not only is a smaller, more-satisfied customer base less difficult to grow, it is also much easier to defend against competitive inroads."
Better customer satisfaction should mean more domestic-car owners make repeat purchases and fewer of them choose different brands for their next vehicle, Fornell said.
Lincoln-Mercury cracked the top five by scoring an 88, tying for third with Buick and Honda. Lincoln-Mercury saw a 6 percent gain from last year, displacing Toyota among the top five. Toyota kept its score at 86, just three points from the top, while falling into a tie for seventh.
Overall, Ford Motor Co.'s customer satisfaction increased 5 percent, Chrysler Group's, 4 percent and General Motors Co.'s was up 2 percent. That puts Ford "slightly above" GM in overall customer satisfaction, Fornell said. The two companies are tied if the tallies exclude Pontiac, which GM is discontinuing, and Saturn, which it is selling. The study data lumps other brands that GM and Ford are shedding into its "Other" category.
Volkswagen sustained the greatest improvement, advancing 6.2 percent from last year to tie for seventh with a score of 86. That marks the first time since 2004 that VW has outperformed the industry average. Fornell attributed the gain to improved quality and a near doubling of advertising spending.
Ford's U.S. sales have fallen 29.7 percent this year, while the automaker has boosted share. GM's 37.7 percent drop and Chrysler Group's 42 percent slide have been steeper than the industry's 32.1 percent decline.
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