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The Detroit News

J.D. Power customer satisfaction survey

Lincoln dealers No. 1 in service

Ford's premium brand takes top honors for the second year in a row, edging Cadillac, Saturn.

By Christine Tierney / The Detroit News
Robin Buckson / The Detroit News

Service adviser Dave Goddard, 52, of Allen Park helps a customer sign up for a loaner car at Demmer Lincoln-Mercury.

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J.D. Power 2005 Customer Service Index Study
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Insurance Institute for Highway Safety vehicle ratings

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Owners of Ford Motor Co.'s premium Lincoln brand were the most satisfied with their dealer service for the second year in a row -- the first time a domestic brand has won top honors in two consecutive years, according to marketing consultants J.D. Power and Associates.

Three of the four top-scoring brands were domestic, as General Motors Corp.'s Cadillac and Saturn were ranked second and third by customers who took in vehicles for maintenance or repairs during the first three years of ownership.

Toyota Motor Corp.'s premium Lexus brand was the highest-rated import marque. But the automaker's Toyota-brand dealer service was ranked below average, although its score improved slightly in J.D. Power's 2005 Customer Service Index study over last year.

Lincoln's CSI score rose to a record 915 points from 912 last year, with customers praising the fairness of prices charged for repairs and maintenance and the timeliness.

The top-rated domestic brands' strong showing is welcome news for Detroit's automakers. This week, GM and Ford reported losses for the second quarter on North American automotive operations.

According to J.D. Power, high satisfaction levels with dealer service helps manufacturers by bolstering their customers' loyalty.

"We have direct research that tells you that if you take care of the customer and do it quickly and efficiently and right the first time, they're loyal," said Al Giombetti, president of Ford's Lincoln Mercury division.

The big challenge for Detroit's automakers now is to recapture lost customers and draw new ones.

"The domestics are pretty strong on loyalty but relatively weak on conquest, and it's the combination of loyalty and conquest that determines your market share," said Chris Denove, a partner at J.D. Power.

Among the report's findings was that recalls provide an opportunity to boost customer satisfaction when dealers carry out repairs or parts replacements promptly.

"As negative as recalls are for manufacturers, they provide dealerships with opportunities to excel in service and make a positive impact on their customers," said Steve Witten, executive director of J.D. Power's auto retail research.

"When a vehicle is fixed quickly and correctly in one visit, customers tend to walk away with higher satisfaction. This typically occurs with recall work since the dealers are prepared to work on the specific problem," Witten said.

About half of the repair work cited in the study involved recalled vehicles, up from 39 percent in 2004, reflecting tighter government regulations on the reporting of safety defects. The average CSI score for 2005 -- 871 -- was up fractionally over last year. Isuzu was the lowest-scoring brand, with 810 points out of 1,000.

The study's findings were based on responses from 99,550 owners and lessees of 2002 to 2004 model-year vehicles.

A similar J.D. Power survey, of owners of four- and five-year-old vehicles, found high satisfaction levels with the service provided by Honda Motor Co.'s Acura, Cadillac, Nissan Motor Co.'s Infiniti and Lexus dealers. Cars of that age are typically past the manufacturer's warranty. By the time a car is five years old, only around half the owners still go to a dealer for service.

You can reach Christine Tierney at (313) 222-1463 or [email protected]
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