A major reason U.S. consumers keep buying new vehicles at a near-record pace despite tough economic times is a dramatic growing satisfaction with auto dealers and the car buying experience.
That's according to a new national opinion poll by Automotive Retailing Today (ART).
The survey says high customer satisfaction levels are prevalent across all ethnic and gender categories, and especially strong among women. The news media also is giving the new vehicle purchase experience high marks.
“Americans are walking into showrooms more informed and confident than ever before, and dealers are meeting or exceeding their expectations,” says ART Chairman James Willingham. “Maybe it's time to give the last rites to those old negative stereotypes about car dealers.”
Overall, 94% gave thumbs up to the purchase experience. The survey included 1,112 interviews with consumers who have purchased or leased a new vehicle within the last 18 months, including 253 minorities.
Moreover, interviews with 100 usually skeptical automotive journalists indicate their impression of a consumer's buying experience is improving. Specifically, 52% today believe that consumers would report a positive new car buying or leasing experience, up from 39% in 1998.
Willingham says ART's findings track with other recent industry research.
The University of Michigan Business School's American Customer Satisfaction Index found consumers are more satisfied with their autos than they are with most other major products.
J.D. Power & Associates found high levels of satisfaction with the industry overall, as well as high marks for vehicles and the sales process at dealerships.
“We are thrilled to receive nearly unanimous high ratings from our customers, and that the high ratings transcend ethnicity and gender,” says Willingham, a former NADA chairman and a General Motors dealer in California. “Dealers have worked hard on customer satisfaction and are succeeding, even in otherwise difficult economic times.”
The poll found Asians have the highest satisfaction level with their dealership experience (96%), followed by Caucasians and African-Americans (each 94%), and Hispanics (90%).
Consumers' main “likes” involving the purchase process: the car (24%); sales/service (11%); price (8%); and ease of purchase (6%).
ART Executive Director Denise Patton-Pace says, “Another myth that we can discard is that women are intimidated by the buying experience. Quite to the contrary, women and men alike are both satisfied, but 95% of women are satisfied by their experience, besting men who reported 91% positives.
“Women today are more interested in what they drive and are doing their homework before entering the market.”
ART is a coalition that includes all major automobile manufacturers and dealer organizations. Wirthlin Worldwide did the polling.