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Saturn, Luxury Cars Earn Top Rankings in Sales Satisfaction Survey

July 01, 1998|From Associated Press

DETROIT — If you refuse to drive a Saturn, the best way to ensure a pleasant experience buying a new car is to go upscale: Luxury car dealers ranked the highest in J.D. Power & Associates' annual sales satisfaction survey released Tuesday.

The survey ranked auto makers on how well their dealers satisfied customers in the purchase or lease transaction and in the delivery of the new car or truck.

Saturn, the small-car unit of General Motors Corp., led the rankings for the fourth consecutive year. The rest of the top 10 was filled by luxury nameplates, most of them foreign: Cadillac, Lexus, Land Rover, Volvo, BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Lincoln and Infiniti.

The dominance of luxury brands is no accident. After Japanese auto makers Toyota and Nissan made inroads in the U.S. market with their new luxury brands, Lexus and Infiniti, respectively, European and U.S. luxury auto makers began to take note and improve the way they sell cars, said David Letson of J.D. Power.

GM's Cadillac division saw the biggest improvement this year, to second place from 10th in 1997.

As Cadillac tries to attract a younger generation of customers with hipper marketing and an entry-level luxury car, the Catera, it has retrained its sales staff. The training included "Catera College," a three-day program for dealers and their sales staffs on how to make younger consumers and women feel more comfortable in the showroom.

Cadillac dealers also have their sales staffs thoroughly review every feature and aspect of a car when the customer takes delivery.

The J.D. Power survey's methodology was changed for 1998 to include additional measurements, so the scores are not directly comparable with those from previous years, the Agoura Hills-based market research firm said.

Overall, the average score was down slightly from 1997 when adjusted for the changes. Letson blames that on customers' higher expectations.

"Customer expectations are getting a lot harder to satisfy," he said. "The programs and initiatives of dealerships are not keeping up with those changing expectations, especially in the area of the purchase transaction."

The top reasons customers become unhappy with dealers are broken promises, complicated price negotiations and an intimidating environment, the survey said.

Saturn, with its friendly, down-home atmosphere and no-haggle pricing, makes the sales process faster and less stressful. As a result, it has attracted a loyal following of owners and repeat buyers.

Among the brands that ranked above the industry average, 10 were products of GM, Ford Motor Co. or Chrysler Corp., eight were European, and three were Japanese.

Thirteen auto makers ranked below the industry average. They included Toyota, Dodge, Plymouth, GMC, Honda and Nissan.

J.D. Power surveyed 23,970 buyers of 1998 cars, minivans, pickups and sport-utility vehicles bought in November, December or January.

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