Drivers are Disappointed with GM's Latest Moves

New Chevrolets like the Impala are receiving rave reviews. The current product line is one of the brand's best ever. So why are Chevy's customers so unhappy? Photo credit: General Motors Co.

Is Detroit falling behind the Japanese – again?

A survey released this past week showed that the gap in customer satisfaction between the Detroit automakers and Japan's top names has grown over the last year, even though Detroit's new cars are better than ever.

The new American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey shows that when it comes to satisfied customers, Toyota (NYSE: TM  ) , Honda (NYSE: HMC  ) , and Subaru still shine.

Meanwhile, General Motors' (NYSE: GM  ) Chevrolet brand has fallen from above average last year to the very bottom of the heap.

The gap between Japan and Detroit is widening
The survey included about 4,000 randomly selected folks who had recently bought a new car. Last spring, ACSI asked them a bunch of questions to find out how satisfied they were with their cars and with the overall experience.

Among the findings:

  • Toyota, Honda, and Subaru each scored 86 points, higher than every American brand included in the survey. Toyota's and Honda's scores have risen in the last year. Luxury brands Mercedes-Benz and Lexus were the only brands to score higher.
  • Among American brands, Cadillac and GMC led with scores of 85, just one point behind Toyota.
  • Ford (NYSE: F  ) scored an 83, the survey average, as did Nissan (NASDAQOTH: NSANY  ) . Both scores were unchanged from last year.
  • The Chrysler brand gained ground – it's now average – but Chrysler Group's other two brands, Dodge and Jeep, both fell.
  • Dodge and Chevrolet tied for worst of the bunch. That was a big fall for Chevy, which was just ahead of Ford a year ago.

So what does all this mean?

Is Detroit doing too much at once?
Since the economic crisis, all three of Detroit's automakers have pushed hard to overhaul their product lines to make them more competitive with the world's best. On the whole, they're succeeding – but that push has come with a cost.

Last year's launch of Ford's Escape was marred by recalls, but the compact SUV has gone on to be a big sales success. Photo credit: Ford Motor Co.

For Ford, new-car launches have proven to be a challenge. Last year's launch of the Escape was followed by several recalls in quick succession – and quality glitches slowed last fall's launch of the Fusion sedan. Both have since gone on to be best-sellers, but buyers of early models may have become frustrated.

Those kinds of things happen when factories are super-busy (several Ford and GM plants are working around the clock now) and automakers are scrambling to get their latest models to dealers. But if Detroit wants those factories to stay busy, it needs to get better about addressing these kinds of issues.

The survey's report explained that recalls in particular can have a big impact on customer satisfaction reports. Both BMW (NASDAQOTH: BAMXF  ) and Hyundai (NASDAQOTH: HYMTF  ) saw scores fall this year, and both had major recalls in 2013, it noted.

Is this really about the dealers?
But I wonder if there isn't another element of "customer satisfaction" with new-car purchases that isn't really addressed in the ACSI's report, which seems focused on "quality" as a key factor.

Consider this: Luxury brands were among the highest scorers in this survey. Mercedes and Cadillacs aren't necessarily more reliable than Toyotas or Chevys, in terms of problems with the cars themselves. But the experience a customer has when something goes wrong is very different at a Mercedes, Lexus, or Cadillac dealer than it is at a Chevy or Dodge dealer.

More and more, luxury-car dealers have focused on making their customers feel well cared-for, something that is notably lacking at many mainstream dealers.

I think if more Chevy and Ford dealers were to spend a little less time on herding new customers through the door, and a little more time ensuring that they're taking good care of the customers they have, those customers -- all of those customers -- would feel more satisfied with their experience.

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Read/Post Comments (29) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 2:58 PM, darylz71 wrote:

    Amazes me how anyone could be happy with a Subaru. My Wife had one, and it had garbage sheet metal that would ding if you looked at it the right way, a horrible rough ride, garbage headlights that left you practically blind in the dark, and did I mention the rough ride that would brake your sternum? Thank god we traded that heap on a Chevy Cruze. Better in EVERY way!

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 3:15 PM, lilguy5902 wrote:

    If you just spent $60,000 or more on a "luxury" car would you admit to your friends or even to survey takers that the vehicle you were just suckered into is anything but perfect?

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 3:16 PM, loofllams wrote:

    It has to do with the mentality of the average american car dealers. The dealership owners feel that all the money on a new car sale is theirs and that the salesmen are lucky to be working there. They are paid as little as possible on every aspect of the car deal. When the customer comes back with a problem, that sales man cannot be bothered with a customer that he made $50--$100 on and won't see for another three years.

    $100.00 a car at 15 cars a month = $1500.00. try to live on that. By the way, the average salesman in the U.S sells 8-9 cars a month.

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 3:25 PM, Lou1s wrote:

    When the luxury brands have a problem, they may sometimes provide the customer with a vehicle to use until the repairs are complete. When there is a backlog of repairs, many people are without that needed auto, even if its the second car in the family. Manufacturers and dealers need to consider what is needed to keep those customers happy, by returning to not only pick up the car, but buy another one the next time a new car purchase is on the menu.

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 3:28 PM, texcruzzer wrote:

    This article makes me wonder more about the survey than the results. Was is presented to equal numbers of brand buyers for instance? I worked for Nissan in '79-'80. The propaganda machine was amazing. Some of their cars had some merit, some that is. Overall the cars were crap, crap, crap. I couldn't stand it, moved on.

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 3:43 PM, SnafuMacPeppone wrote:

    almost forgot. I owned two Subarus. They were ten times the car than that only GM I ever owned ... a Cadillac Cimarron. And NO !! I did not buy it, I got it for free from a family member and resold it to the comrades green giants in the California EPA program for $1000. Hehehehehehe.

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 3:49 PM, iwriter wrote:

    I just bought a ford focus... 2012 version and the transmission is a piece of crap. I would like to know if you drove it? Over time it starts to hesitate and sometimes it is very bad. they say it is normal but they came up with several fixes that do not work. This is very disappointing for me cause Ford is not owning up to this problem. Many others have the same problem. I hope you investigate this as it is all over the internet... unless they do something about this there is going to be a big backlash... thanks for viewing

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 3:54 PM, MadeinUSA61 wrote:

    Help! Is that impala by chevrolet or accord by chevrolet? Thanks.

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 4:25 PM, cavmagdotcom wrote:

    "Customers who bought cars last spring" well, they didn't buy any 2014 Impalas now did they? Just came on the market as did Caddy's ATS. What the scores say to me is that no one's building junk anymore. One a few points seperate 1st from last. And BTW: it's not Toyota that scored so high, it's their luxury brand Lexus.

    Misleading article, I don't know anyone who owns a Subaru, they must have found one guy who really likes his.

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 4:47 PM, metofool wrote:

    What a meaningless survey.

    Of course the ratings are going to be high for all the brands. The survey-ee just bought the darn thing a few month ago!!!

    Try asking them 4 years down the road. I buy used cars at auction and can a test to the complete junk most U.S. brands still are.

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 5:06 PM, dcwttaoo1 wrote:

    So many paid comments here, its hard to believe any of these comments.

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 5:12 PM, AcuraT wrote:

    Cavmagdotcom - it is John Rosevear (who loves Ford - just check out his other articles) making any argument he can to take down GM. He always does this. You are exactly right, if he had bothered to share (and it does not support his viewpoint) that the point range from top to bottom is only 9 points - the smallest it has ever been - what would people get from this drivel? Chevy was not at the bottom either - with the 9 point range and Chevy only a few points behind (like 7), that does not sound like the sky is falling - does it?

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 5:30 PM, mnsprk wrote:

    What does anyone expect for GM now that the government is involved. Had they not gotten the bailout they would have worked to make things better. Dumbest thing they did was stop production of medium duty trucks 4500/5500 thousands were sold for buses and rv's.

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 5:55 PM, tcandadai wrote:

    A long tome ago, I contemplated buying a GM car. At that time, I perceived a sense of arrogance on the part of GM. I tried Chrysler and Ford cars. They were pathetically unreliable. Then, after test-driving various manufacturers, I zeroed in on Toyota and stayed with that brand. I still have Toyota in our 2-car situation.

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 5:58 PM, abramsmm01 wrote:

    Chevy probably took some heat for their recent mainstream models. The new Malibu was a miss, and the Cruze pretty quickly became a favorite on the car rental lots--- a quick drive will explain why.

    As for Chrysler, maybe they are getting by on their Ram pickups, Durango, Grand Cherokee, and the little Fiat. Otherwise, there are huge holes in their lineup and I don't know how they will survive. The Dart was a disappointment, the 200 is an outdated Sebring with a mild facelift, and even the 300 is overdue for an update.

    It's not just the Americans that have been a letdown-- for e.g., recent Nissan releases (Altima, Sentra, Versa) have been no great shakes.

    Finally, CVT transmissions, electric power steering, and cumbersome infotainment systems make many recent cars a smartphone on wheels, not anything pleasurable to drive. All in prep for cars that will drive themselves?

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 6:04 PM, waffle24d wrote:

    After buying 5 Saturn cars GM abandoned us so there was no reason to even consider any GM product. So we bought a Ford Fusion when our last Saturn was storm damaged. No plans what so ever to go back. Heck we had a Pontiac, an Oldsmobile and the 5 Saturns so just no point in dealing with GM what is the next car on their chopping block?

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 6:39 PM, mr091468 wrote:

    Why is it that we cannot buy a car (with few exceptions) for a fixed window price like you buy a loaf of bread. You don't argue with some fool salesman for an hour or two when purchasing a loaf of bread. It's a buck and that's it. We to to Carmax or Enterprise Car sales where one price fits all and they don't care where your financing comes from. I refuse to get suckered in by the sleaze dealerships. BTW, that goes for family and friends.

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 7:10 PM, al8603 wrote:

    Customers seriously disappointed with Government Motors. Say it ain't so. LMAO.

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 7:47 PM, frellmedead wrote:

    The problem I have with Ford products is that they are pushing the electronic gadgets, which drives up the vehicle cost way above what one should have to pay for a Ford. I'll stick with my Honda Pilot. In eight years, I'll still be driving it instead of being on a second or even third Ford vehicle.

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 7:48 PM, 1fred1 wrote:

    My Subaru Forester was the worst car I have ever owned. The 2.5 liter engine has a reputation for cylinder head gasket failures. The sheet metal is junk and rusts quickly and the electrics were marginal.

    I'll never buy a Subaru again but they market them well

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 7:53 PM, frellmedead wrote:

    And look who drives Subarus: hippies. Hippies love everything.

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 9:57 PM, gparra9 wrote:

    I see GM ( Govt. Motors) is back to producing "JUNK", how much longer before they need "ANOTHER" taxpayer bailout ???!!! Thank goodness for Honda & Toyota good Quality, reliable vehicles !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 10:03 PM, 18RC wrote:

    It's simple: For 30+ years all the American car makers have been unwilling to give us cars with Japanese or even Korean levels of reliability and durability.

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 11:00 PM, danwoods wrote:

    My dad worked at a chevy dealership in the 70's and 80's. The cars rusted on the lot before they were even sold, and were hideously under-powered. 100000 miles and they were shot, period. How they were still in business when the bailout occurred is a mystery to me. 238000 on my accord and still going strong!

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 11:03 PM, bluegrasssboy wrote:

    Actually, you can just go in and buy a car for a fixed price. It's the one on the window sticker. And in the case of most smaller vehicles, it's often just a couple or few hundred dollars over invoice. All you have to do is say, "I'll take it." The days of thousands of dollars in mark up are behind us. You say the bread company can make a profit off of you, but you don't want the car dealer too? You don't haggle over the price in the check out line at Wal-Mart? So you're ok with tWal Mart executives setting a price that yields a profit they're satisfied with, but you want the car dealer to loose money??? The "fool" salesmen you loathe to deal with get paid $100-150 per new car. And after being in the car business for a few years now, I can assure you, they often loathe you too. Believe me, the general public tells more lies while on the lot than the salesmen.

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 11:56 PM, cypress555 wrote:

    ive had problems with Subaru then went to Nissan and still had problems. I finally had enough and I bought a dodge charger and been happy for the past two years

  • Report this Comment On September 01, 2013, at 11:57 PM, macmanjim wrote:

    I can tell you why people are unhappy with Chevy and it's because the quality isn't there, not over the long haul. I bought a 2009 Suburban. The chrome peels off the handles, the door trim peels off the car and then there are engine issues where it burns oil and has lifter issues as described under TSB 10-06-01-007D and 10-06-01-008B. The interesting thing is that this normally happens beyond the base warranty, between 40-50K miles. Even it the problem is under an extended warranty there are reports of people being offered small incentives to buy an new Chevy. Really? After a bad experience someone will go for more? For a 40K+ vehicle, it isn't worth it and the quality isn't there and the sad thing is that our tax money bailed them out.

  • Report this Comment On September 02, 2013, at 12:12 AM, edteked wrote:

    GM has some of the most boring, useless cars known to man! Even Kia is making more exciting cars than GM! Heck, just to keep the tires on the ground for it's Flagship Muscle car, it had to go to it's Australian Monaro manufacturer for the suspension bits! The problem is that GM is run and controlled by a bunch of old white haired dudes in suits who probably haven't driven a car since the '50s and think a night out on the town is borrowing mummies and daddies "buggie" and taking your best girl out to the Bijou!

  • Report this Comment On September 02, 2013, at 12:42 AM, CrazyDocAl wrote:

    Around here 10 to 15 years is about all you get out of a vehicle before it rusts away. Toyota replaced the frame on my Tundra, a frame made by Dana Corp (US mfg), and now it's like a new truck. Pretty much every other brand truck owner around here is p^ssed that their truck is on it's last legs while Toyota stepped up.

    Because of that I replaced my Subara Impreza with a Rav4. The Subaru is to of the same quality. The gear box, the rattles in the door, the dash light scheme, the thin sheet metal, the very rough running engine, none of it could make up for it's outstanding awd system.

    Sorry but GM is a dead brand to me. My last one was a Saturn, one of the best vehicle I've ever own is no longer. Then the bailout by the government to repay the unions, never will buy one again.

    Dodge never did anything for me. I was going to look at Fords but with Toyota treating me as well as they have I gave them my business.

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