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Saturn Dealers Rated Tops in Customer Service Survey

July 11, 2002|From Bloomberg News

General Motors Corp.'s Saturn led customer satisfaction in an annual auto dealership study, marking the first time since 1986 that the top ranking went to a non-luxury brand and ending a five-year run for Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus.

Lexus fell to third behind Saturn and Nissan Motor Co.'s Infiniti brand in the latest survey by market researcher J.D. Power & Associates. General Motors' Cadillac division was fourth. Saturn ranked second the last two years and is the first non-luxury winner since Honda Motor Co.'s namesake brand.

Saturn won the top ranking because of its performance on routine maintenance such as oil changes. About 65% of Saturn service is related to normal maintenance work, compared with a 55% industry average, J.D. Power said.

J.D. Power's reports are closely watched by auto makers and often are cited in advertising. The latest study, based on responses from about 50,000 new-vehicle owners, focuses on dealer-service experiences in the first three months of ownership.

Saturn "built a cult following" by stressing dealer service, said Jim Gillette, vice president of consulting firm IRN Inc. The division's sales, which fell 2.8% in this year's first half, have "been in kind of the toilet the past couple of years" because it lacked new models, he said.

Saturn's first-half U.S. sales declined 2.8% to 145,740. Saturn is starting to get new models such as the Vue sport utility vehicle and that may help sales, Gillette said.

Lexus attributed its decline in part to growth that has pushed sales up 7.6% to a record 117,287 in this year's first six months.

"Our sales have expanded so quickly and we only have 197 dealers," Lexus spokeswoman Nancy Hubbell said. "We may not have had as many sales outlets and service people as we need."

Nissan's Infiniti is upgrading dealer showrooms and service facilities, which should help in future surveys, said Mark McNabb, the brand's vice president. "It's nice to see this move up to second in the 2001 study."

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