Survey: Hyundai, Subaru, Lexus Score High With Dealers

January 30, 2012

Each year, thousands of consumers answer surveys about cars and the people who sell them. Those studies -- like the ones we recently mentioned about brand loyalty and the shopping habits of men and women -- can tell us a lot about buyers, but for an insider's look at the auto industry, you need to chat with folks on the other side of the counter: the dealers. A new study from the National Automobile Dealers Association says its members are happiest in the company of Asian marques like Hyundai, Subaru, and Lexus.

The study was carried out in July and August 2011 and garnered responses from over 14,700 dealerships. According to a NADA press release, survey participants rated automakers in three areas: (1) "franchise value" (e.g. brand value, product offerings, etc.); (2) "automaker policy decisions that affect the dealership" (both directly and indirectly); and (3) "the automaker's field staff who visit dealerships". Taken in sum, those scores gauge how easy manufacturers make things for their brand representatives in the community so that they can get on with the business of selling and servicing cars. 

When all the responses from the NADA survey were tabulated, Hyundai landed on top for the third year in a row. Subaru clocked in at number two, and Lexus drove to the number three spot. Those were followed by Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi, with Cadillac and Honda tied for tenth.

There are a couple of things worth noting in NADA's results. For starters, nearly half of those brands are premium marques. Since high-end lines typically pride themselves on high-end service to consumers, it's not entirely surprising to see that attitude carry over to the automakers' relationships with their dealers. It's all part of the same culture.

That said, dealer satisfaction doesn't necessarily correlate with customer satisfaction. Back in December, we saw that car shoppers were most pleased with their experiences at Lexus and MINI dealerships, but MINI was a no-show on the NADA survey. And while some of J.D. Power's top performers with shoppers also scored well with dealers -- Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, Porsche, Volkswagen -- others NADA faves like Audi, Kia, and Honda fared poorly with consumers. Translation: just because customers have great experiences at a dealership doesn't mean that that same dealership will have great experience with the automaker it represents.

And the last thing worth noting: with the exception of Cadillac, NADA survey respondents showed no love for Detroit. If we were the betting sort, we'd wager that might have something to do with lingering resentment toward GM and Chrysler for their controversial downsizing of dealer networks after their 2009 restructurings. There are undoubtedly other factors at work, too -- like Chrysler's insistence that Fiat dealers create entirely new showrooms. Even though dealers were eager to get the (now underperforming) Fiat 500, construction projects always brings their share of frustration.

If you've got a few minutes to spare this Monday morning, you can click here to read a PDF explaining the NADA survey and some of its findings. 

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