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Hot deals leave car shoppers satisfied

Customer satisfaction scores rise as incentives make the buying process more pleasant.

©Associated Press
August 16, 2002

DETROIT -- The heated incentive war among automakers is warming customers' feelings toward the process of buying a new vehicle, according to a J.D. Power and Associates survey released Thursday.

"It's the first time in a long time that price has such an impact," said Steve Witten, senior director for project operations at the Westlake Village, Calif., market research firm.

As a result, most every brand showed improvement in customer satisfaction, the 2002 Sales Satisfaction Index showed.

The Saturn division of General Motors Corp. topped the annual index for the third-straight year based mainly on its policy of no-haggle pricing.

"What's really exceptional about Saturn is eight of the top 10 are luxury brands," Witten said.

Indeed, right behind Saturn are Cadillac, Lincoln, Lexus, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz, followed by Volvo, Porsche and Mercury. Buick barely made the list, coming in at No. 10.

Offers of zero percent and low interest financing resulted in more customers choosing to finance their vehicles and fewer choosing to lease, J.D. Power found.

The percentage of customers financing increased from 48 percent in 2001 to 54 percent in 2002 while leasing dropped from 27 percent to 20 percent, the lowest percentage in almost 10 years.

U.S. automakers have been offering some type of incentive for many years, but the latest battle began in September with GM's "Keep America Rolling" no-interest financing promotion.

Ford and Chrysler followed, leading to a torrid sales pace at the end of the year that boosted 2001 to the second best sales year in history.

The J.D. Power report also showed that speed of completing the transaction was another important factor in enhancing customer satisfaction.

Once again, Saturn's no-haggle policy eliminates the time spent negotiating a price, reducing the number of dealership employees a customer must encounter before completing the transaction, Witten said.

"Because everyone pays the same price, the customer leaves without (the) shadow of a doubt they got taken for a ride," Witten said.

The survey, performed in January and February, is based on more than 39,000 responses from buyers and lessees of new 2001 and 2002 model cars and light trucks.

* * *

Here are the top 10 auto brands in the 2002 J.D. Power and Associates Sales Satisfaction Index Study. The study measures customer satisfaction with the purchase or leasing experience.

1. Saturn

2. Cadillac

3. Lincoln

4. Lexus

5. Jaguar

6. Mercedes-Benz

7. Volvo

8. Porsche

9. Mercury

10. Buick

Source: J.D. Power and Associates 2002 Sales Satisfaction Index Study

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