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Score Another for Hyundai With U.S. Customers

Price, value and warranty push South Korean auto maker ahead of Japanese brands in new-car buyer survey. Honda slips.


South Korea's Hyundai Motor Co. continues to come on strong with its lineup for the North American market, racking up huge sales increases for its Hyundai and Kia lines the last two years and winning accolades from auto reviewers for such vehicles as the Hyundai Santa Fe sport utility vehicle and the Kia Sedona minivan.

Now the customers are speaking.

Hyundai has outscored traditional heavyweights, including Toyota, Honda and Nissan, in the annual customer satisfaction ratings announced Tuesday by AutoPacific Inc.

Two Hyundai models and a Kia took top honors in their classifications in AutoPacific's vehicle satisfaction scores. Hyundai's Santa Fe tied with the Toyota Highlander for top points in the mid-size SUV category. The Hyundai Sonata took first place among mid-size sedans, and the Kia Sedona was rated tops among minivans.

The top-of-class awards are less significant, though, than Hyundai's overall finish as 15th among 36 nameplates rated by AutoPacific in its survey of 34,000 new-car buyers. In addition to besting the top three Japanese brands, Hyundai finished higher than Volkswagen, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Chrysler, Ford and Saturn, among others.

Toyota Motor Corp., however, captured more first-place awards than any other auto maker, with six for various Lexus products and two for Toyota models. In all, 20 brands finished at or above the industry average of 656 points, and 16--including Honda--fell below.

AutoPacific's ratings are one of three leading buyer satisfaction scorecards released each year. The widely followed initial quality survey by J.D. Power & Associates is scheduled to be released next month, and San Diego-based Strategic Vision also will issue its buyer survey in May.

All three attempt to rate vehicles based on new owners' praise and complaints, although each uses a unique formula to arrive at its ratings.

AutoPacific's scores are heavily weighted toward new owners' enthusiasm for a vehicle and the buying experience, so newer cars and trucks tend to do better than older models, said George Peterson, president of the Tustin-based auto industry marketing and consulting firm.

Honda, for example, fell below the industry average in overall satisfaction scores this year largely because its Accord, though the best-selling mid-size sedan in the U.S. last year, has not been updated in several years.

"It doesn't mean people don't like it or that there were a lot of problems" with the Accord or other Hondas, Peterson said. New owners simply didn't score important attributes such as exterior styling as highly as did owners of all-new models such as the Sonata or Nissan's Altima. Honda fell from 11th place overall last year to 23rd place in the 2002 ratings.

"We also suffer a little because demand is so high that consumers have to pay full price and have to wait for the car in many cases," said Art Garner, a spokesman for American Honda Motor Co.

Key attributes rated in the vehicle satisfaction scores include styling, overall quality and performance, ride and handling. Other factors include satisfaction with the dealership, vehicle warranty and financing package.

"Hyundai's products are quite competitive now," Peterson said, "but what put them over the top were price, value and warranty issues." Hyundai and Kia offer 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranties.

Cadillac was the top brand in AutoPacific's ratings for the second straight year, followed by Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Lincoln. BMW, Acura, Volvo, Audi and Infiniti filled out the top 10 in that order.

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