Power Shows Slower Gains

July 16, 2001

2001 J.D. Power CSI by TCC Team (7/16/2001)

DETROIT—For the first time since J.D. Power and Associates began tracking customer satisfaction, actual warranty repairs are less than 50 percent of service visits.

So what? That means that cars are that much better in terms of quality, and don’t have to be repaired as much. The trend is also a function, though, of increased maintenance work coming to dealers via free scheduled maintenance for one, two or three years thrown in with the purchase of a new vehicle. But all that translates to happier and more satisfied customers. After all, when the car is built better to start with, customers tend to be happier.

The bad news? Dealers are so busy selling new cars and so hesitant to invest in their service bays that customers are having to wait longer for appointments and getting less personal attention.

Bottom line: The industry has improved in CSI (consumer satisfaction index) for five straight years, but year-over-year improvement is about the same as last year, which means improvement is slowing.

Lexus and Saturn, the juggernauts of CSI, topped the list again, first and second place respectively. Good news for General Motors (and there was plenty) is that Cadillac vaulted to number three, ahead of the imports and up from number six last year.

“Those three nameplates exemplify the cream of the crop in providing excellent service to their customers,” said John Harbicht, senior manager of service satisfaction research at Power.

Power’s study is based on surveys of 56,000 vehicle owners over three years of dealership visits, which is the typical term of warranty repairs.

Cadillac DeVille brand manager Pat Kemp said he chalked up the improvement to a lot of extra investment in dealer service before the launch of the 2000 DeVille, and the availability of OnStar in all Cadillacs last year.

“When people can dial up OnStar 365/24/7 to ask about the technology in the car, as well as all the other OnStar services...they love that,” said Kemp.

Cheers at the Tubes

GM did remarkably well, coming on the heels of better Initial Quality rankings from Power, and a nice report card from Harbour & Associates for productivity, not to mention a whole barrel of new “recommended” endorsements from Consumer Reports.

GM had half of the top ten brands—Saturn, Caddy, Buick, Oldsmobile and Saab. And GMC climbed into the top 15 after falling below the industry average last year. GMC’s stablemate at GM, Pontiac, though, dropped a few notches into the below-average pool with the Koreans, Suzuki, Isuzu, Subaru and Volkswagen. Chevy held its ground—equal to the industry average two years running.

Daewoo ranked a surprising fourth last year behind Saturn and the luxury brands, but fell below the industry average in 2000 all the way to 34th. Ouch.

“Last year, Daewoo went from company-owned stores to independent dealers and dialed back a program that paid for all scheduled maintenance, which affected our CSI score a great deal,” said Daewoo VP for parts and service Ben Rainwater.

Since last year, though, some of the best-selling brands have dropped in the ranking, while some of the laggards have used the time granted by quieter selling floors to improve the service department.

BMW, burning rubber in sales, fell from number three to number seven. Pontiac and Porsche fell below 20th place. World-beaters on quality Honda and Toyota are both above average, but rank 18th and 19th respectively in satisfying customers at the shop.

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