January 10, 2003

Survey shows U.S. consumers happier with vehicle purchasing experience

McLean, Virginia – A new study finds that a major reason U.S. consumers continue to buy new vehicles at a near-record pace despite tough economic times is a dramatic growing satisfaction with automobile dealers and the car buying experience.

The national opinion poll was released by Automotive Retailing Today (ART) a coalition that includes all major automobile manufacturers and dealer organizations. The survey reports that the high customer satisfaction levels are prevalent across all ethnic and gender categories and especially strong among women buyers. In addition, the news media also is giving the new vehicle purchase experience high marks.

ART Chairman James Willingham said, “Simply stated, Americans are walking into showrooms more informed and confident than ever before, and dealers are meeting or exceeding their expectations. Maybe it’s time to give the last rites to those old negative stereotypes about car dealers.”

Overall, fully 94 percent gave thumbs up to the purchase experience. The survey included 1,112 interviews with consumers who have purchased or leased a new vehicle within the last 18 months, including 253 minorities. What’s more, interviews with 100 normally skeptical automotive journalists indicate their impression of a consumer’s buying experience is improving. Specifically, 52 percent today believe that consumers would report a positive new car buying or leasing experience, up considerably from 39 percent in 1998. The poll was conducted for ART by Wirthlin Worldwide.

Willingham noted that ART’s findings track with other recent industry research showing what The Wall Street Journal characterized as, “Americans Love Their Autos.” The American Customer Satisfaction Index released in August 2002 by the University of Michigan Business School found consumers are more satisfied with their autos than they are with most other major products. J.D. Powers & Associates, a market research company that monitors the auto industry closely, also found “very, very high levels” of satisfaction with the industry overall, as well as high marks for vehicles and the sales process at dealerships.

“We are thrilled to receive nearly unanimous high ratings from our customers, and that the high ratings transcend ethnicity and gender,” Willingham said. “Dealers have worked hard on customer satisfaction and are succeeding, even in otherwise difficult economic times.”

The poll found Asians have the highest satisfaction level with their dealership experience (96%), followed by Caucasians and African-Americans (each 94%), and Hispanics (90%).
Willingham said, “The Internet continues to revolutionize the way new vehicles are purchased. Most consumers still depend on the dealership relationship, rather than making the actual purchase online. But they are much more informed about vehicle features, pricing, options and performance. Because of information available on the Internet, they have a good idea of what they want and how much they are willing to pay for it. This makes the purchase process more efficient for both the customer and the dealer.”

Manufacturer and general information sites were visited most frequently, he said. Comparing Internet use by ethnicity, Asians used the Internet most (78%); followed by Caucasians (49%); African-Americans (43%); and Hispanics (42%).

When asked to list their top “likes” involving the purchase process, most consumers listed the car (24%); sales/service (11%); price (8%); and ease of purchase (6%). Members of the news media listed available information (19%); price (15%); “buying it” (13%) and financing (12%).

According to ART Executive Director Denise Patton-Pace, “Another myth that we can discard is that women are intimidated by the buying experience. Quite to the contrary, women and men alike are both satisfied, but 95 percent of women are satisfied by their experience, besting men who reported 91 percent positives.”

“Women today are more interested in what they drive and are doing their homework before entering the market. They are increasingly upbeat about the process of buying a new vehicle and pleased with how they are treated,” she added.

Data for the survey was collected June 18-July 3, 2002 by random telephone interviews. In addition to consumers who purchased or leased new vehicles recently and the news media, 400 dealership managers were polled to ascertain their views of the process. The margin of error is .05 percent. ART conducted nearly identical surveys in 1998 and 2000, documenting significant improvement in each.

For more information, or to download a copy of the full report, visit www.autoretailing.org.

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