Auto industry skids to all-time low in customer satisfaction, ACSI data show

(September 1, 2020) ANN ARBOR, Mich.  — The U.S. automobile industry, like the economy at large, couldn’t escape the crosshairs of the COVID-19 global pandemic. But that’s not the only hurdle the industry has to overcome: New data indicate an ongoing, industrywide customer satisfaction decline. Overall customer satisfaction with automobiles and light vehicles has dropped 1.3% to a score of 78 (out of 100), and 17 brands post downturns year over year, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) Automobile Report 2019-2020.

Customer satisfaction decreased across all automakers — both foreign and domestic — for the second straight year and now sits at its lowest level in five years. European manufacturers held their lead over Asian and U.S. cars despite a two-point downturn to 79. U.S. automakers also fall two points to 76, trailing European cars by the same gap seen in 2019. Asian manufacturers slip just one point to 78.

“The drop in satisfaction was more alarming a year ago, with 21 of 27 nameplates registering ACSI declines, but this ongoing slide pulls the auto industry into uncharted waters,” said David VanAmburg, managing director at the ACSI. “After a 4.9% customer satisfaction drop over the last two years, automobiles and light vehicles hit an industry low not seen since 1999 and far below the peak score of 84.”

Customer satisfaction with the mass-market segment faded again, down 1% to an ACSI score of 77. Just under half of the measured brands showed declines year over year. Ram made its first appearance at the top of the mass-market list with a steady score of 80, tying Toyota, which dipped 1%.

Honda and Subaru tied for third place despite each retreating 4% to 79. For Honda, this score represents a record low, while Subaru matches its low point. However, Subaru continues to be number one for safety among mass-market vehicles.

GMC, unchanged at 78, tied for fifth place with Mazda and Volkswagen, which inched up 1% each. Kia and Mitsubishi also climbed 1% a piece to 77.

A large group of mass-market plates deadlocked with scores of 76, with three brands sustaining substantial declines: Buick (down 4%), Hyundai (down 4%), and Chevrolet (down 5%). The remaining brands at 76 showed little or no change year over year. Jeep held steady. Nissan climbed 1%. Both Fiat and Ford fell 1%.

Two Fiat Chrysler plates rounded out the industry’s bottom. Dodge saw a 1% uptick to 75. Chrysler surged 3% to 73, yet remained in last place with its second-worst satisfaction score ever.

Luxury nameplates lost their luster as customer satisfaction deteriorated with every measured brand. The segment backtracked 4% to an ACSI score of 79.
Despite falling 2% to 82, Lexus led all luxury vehicles for a fourth consecutive year. Nevertheless, this score marked an all-time low for the brand. Three luxury cars tied for second place with scores of 80: Audi (down 2%), Cadillac (down 1%), and Mercedes-Benz (down 4%).

Four nameplates stumbled into the upper 70s. Infiniti tumbled 4% to 79. BMW and Volvo each plummeted 5% to 78 – a record low for both brands. Acura and Lincoln tied for the lowest score in the luxury segment at 77. While Acura dipped just 1%, Lincoln plunged 6% to a record-low mark.