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August 25, 2020

Luxury vehicles losing luster in customer satisfaction

David Vanamburg

Customer satisfaction in the automobile industry has fallen again, though the decline was not as steep as last year. But if automakers think this is cause for celebration, they might want to pump the brakes.

After a 3.7% drop a year ago, with 21 of 27 nameplates recording ACSI declines, the industry sinks another 1.3% in 2020 to a score of 78 (out of 100), according to our most recent Automobile Report.

While only 17 brands incurred worse satisfaction scores this year, automobiles and light vehicles slump to an industry low that hasn’t been seen since 1999. And it’s luxury vehicles that need a tune-up most of all.

Slumping satisfaction across the whole luxury segment

In 2019, six luxury nameplates took a hit in driver satisfaction, and the segment fell just 1% overall to a score of 82. This year, things are much worse.

Luxury cars backtrack 4% overall to an ACSI score of 79. And no one was impervious to the fallout. All nine nameplates suffer worsening driver satisfaction year over year

Lexus, which leads the luxury segment and the auto industry for the fourth straight year, falls 2% to an ACSI score of 82 – its lowest score ever.

Mercedes Benz (80) and Infiniti (79) each slip 4%. BMW and Volvo both take significant knocks as well, dropping 5% each to 78, while last-place Lincoln falters 6% to an all-time low score of 77.

What’s even more interesting is that the gap between luxury and mass-market vehicles has all but disappeared.

Advantage over mass-market vehicles is shrinking

The luxury segment’s customer satisfaction long-time advantage over mass-market vehicles has narrowed considerably.

From 2008 to 2012, luxury cars led mass-market vehicles by an average of 4 points for driver satisfaction. That gap has shrunk to just 2 points in 2020, as customer satisfaction with mass-market vehicles dips just 1% to a score of 77.

In terms of the overall driver experience, the luxury segment sees declines pretty much across the board. And in many instances, the luxury vehicles benchmarks are now just above – or even equal to – those in the mass-market segment.

For example, in dropping 3% to 83 for driving performance, luxury vehicles now hold just a 1-point advantage over mass-market cars (82). The same goes for vehicle safety, with luxury vehicles down 2% to 83, just a single point ahead of the mass-market segment (82). Mass-market vehicles are also just 1 point behind luxury vehicles for mobile app quality (81 to 82), mobile app reliability (80 to 81), website satisfaction (81 to 82), and gas mileage (76 to 77).

Furthermore, luxury cars are no longer considered as dependable as they once were. Thanks to a 2% slide to 82, that benchmark is now the same as mass-market vehicles.

Problematic pattern of declines

Following the arrival of COVID-19, U.S. automobile industry sales took a huge hit in Q2 of 2020. While they rebounded a bit in July as the country started reopening, it doesn’t change the fact that the industry was hit hard and must still contend with a problematic, pre-existing period of customer satisfaction declines.

Although the luxury vehicle segment still outpaces its mass-market counterpart by wide margins in areas like comfort (84 to 81), interior (84 to 81), technology (82 to 78), and warranties (80 to 76), the overall gap in driver satisfaction is the smallest it’s been in years. Luxury doesn’t have the same luster it once did.

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