CSI Gap Widens Despite Domestics' Gains

Although the customer satisfaction scores of U.S. auto makers largely are improving, they are not gaining at the rate of the Japanese and South Korean brands, according to one study. The (Big Three) are improving, but they're not catching up because the gap (with foreign competitors) is getting bigger, says University of Michigan Professor Claes Fornell, who oversees the university's American Customer

Although the customer satisfaction scores of U.S. auto makers largely are improving, they are not gaining at the rate of the Japanese and South Korean brands, according to one study.

“The (Big Three) are improving, but they're not catching up because the gap (with foreign competitors) is getting bigger,” says University of Michigan Professor Claes Fornell, who oversees the university's American Customer Satisfaction Index survey.

Toyota Motor Corp. led all auto makers and car brands with a score of 87 on a 100-point scale, up three points from last year. Fornell says it is the highest score yet for the company, which includes the Lexus and Scion brands.

In contrast, General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet, which earned 78 this year, had a score of 77 last year.

Ford Motor Co.'s Ford brand placed last, with a score of 75, down from 76 last year.

In this year's survey, Honda Motor Co. Ltd., BMW AG and GM's Cadillac brand placed second, third and fourth, respectively, all earning scores of 86. Honda rose 1.2% from last year, BMW was up 2.4% and Cadillac increased 3.6%.

GM's Buick brand also ranked highly, at 84, a 1.2% increase from 83 in 2004.

Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd. saw the second-biggest increase of all companies and brands surveyed, rising 3.7%.

Ford's Lincoln and Mercury marques fell 3.5% to 83 from 86 in 2004. GM's Saturn brand was flat with a score of 83, while GMC improved slightly, up 1.3% to 81 from 80 last year.

Ford's luxury Volvo brand also was up 1.3% to 81, ahead of Mercedes-Benz, which held steady at 80. The Chrysler brand also was steady at 80.

Pontiac saw an increase from 79 to 80, while Mazda Motor Corp. improved from 78 to 80.

Of the Japanese companies, only Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. suffered a drop, falling to 78 from 81 last year.

“They seem to have difficulty in terms of matching whatever it is that they do to the variation in consumer demand,” says Fornell of Nissan's drop.

Volkswagen AG also declined, falling to 78 from 80 in 2004, due to lingering quality issues.

Jeep and Chevrolet saw slight improvements, each going from 77 to 78, but both still rank near the bottom.

The biggest improvement, year-over-year, was made by Dodge, which had a 4% uptick, going from 75 in 2004 to 78 this year. However, it placed third to last.

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