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U.S.A.: Lincoln climbs up J.D.Power study

Infiniti grabs top spot in service satisfaction
Lincoln, Audi climb in J.D. Power study

By Ralph Kisiel
Automotive News / July 23, 2003

Infiniti, the luxury brand of Nissan, edged out Saturn for the top spot in this year's J.D. Power and Associates Customer Service Index study.

There was a three-way tie with Lexus and Acura for third place with a surprise showing from Lincoln.

And in another big move up the index, the Audi brand, long the poster child for low service satisfaction, made the transition from below industry average to above average.

The annual J.D. Power study study focuses on experiences with the dealer service department during the first three years of vehicle ownership, which typically represents the majority of vehicle warranty periods. The study is based upon the responses of nearly 106,000 new-vehicle owners and lessees.

Infiniti, which placed second in last year's study, has reliable vehicles, so most of the brand's service business is in the form of maintenance work, according to the Westlake Village, Calif., market research firm. The brand scored 900 out of a possible 1,000 points on the index.

"Infiniti's strongest suit is fixing it right the first time and things relating to that - the quality of the diagnosis and the thoroughness in making sure that everything that was promised gets done," says Joe Ivers, a partner and executive director of quality and customer satisfaction at J.D. Power.

If a repair is involved, the service quality is top notch, Ivers says. If it's only maintenance, Infiniti's strength is getting the customer in and out quickly, he says.

Audi, whose U.S. sales, has in years past not been able to keep up with its customer service needs, Ivers says.

"Audi has been a sort of poster child of big success and rapid sales growth, but has been really choking on all those customers," Ivers says. "You had a painfully long wait to get an appointment."

Ivers attributes Audi's 29-point improvement to building more service capacity in the dealerships and finding more efficient ways to schedule customers.

"The customers are reporting a whole lot less time that they have to wait to actually get into the dealership," Ivers says.

Mercedes-Benz also had a 29-point jump in this year's survey, lifting the franchise back above the industry average. Like Audi, Mercedes-Benz is doing a better job of getting customers in more quickly for service appointments, and once they arrive,

"Those are two of the bigger movers and shakers," Ivers says of Audi and Mercedes-Benz. Both franchises are doing better at getting service customers in and out on a timely basis, he says.

From an industry perspective, quality improvements across the industry are driving down the need for warranty repairs at new-vehicle dealerships, transforming the nature of the dealer service business, Ivers says. The study finds that the balance of work at dealerships is tilting more toward regular scheduled maintenance as opposed to repairs. The mix of routine maintenance business has increased to 57 percent in 2003 from 47 percent in 1999.

To replace declining revenue from warranty work, dealers must now compete with other service providers, such as independent service facilities, for customer-paid service business, making them more accountable to their customers, Ivers says.

Other shifts worth note:

Lincoln -- up 27 points -- ties with Lexus and Acura for third place. Lincoln improved the time it takes to speak to a service adviser, completed repairs or maintenance quicker, and made the payment process easier. Lincoln also did a better job of keeping the service department clean.

"It's going to give them some bragging rights that they are tied with Lexus," Ivers says.

Land Rover plunged 33 points, dipping below industry average. Land Rover's biggest challenge involves product quality, rather than dealership service.

"Land Rover has a consistent pattern of vehicle durability challenges," Ivers says. "They have been plagued for many years with a high rate of need for repair."

Suzuki, with 781 points, was third from the bottom, but is this year's franchise with the biggest point improvement. Suzuki is up 36 points to 781, up from the cellar and 745 points last year. The franchise passes Daewoo and Isuzu. The new, small Aerio sedan shows signs of fewer repairs and that is reflected in its score. Suzuki scores were up across the board for maintenance and repair customers.

Customer Service Index Ranking
Infiniti 900
Saturn 896
Acura 895
Lexus 895
Lincoln 895
Cadillac 893
Saab 892
Buick 889
Porsche 874
BMW 873
Jaguar 868
Mercedes-Benz 868
Volvo 868
Mercury 867
Oldsmobile 863
Chevrolet 858
GMC 858
Chrysler 857
Honda 854
Audi 852
Jeep 851
Pontiac 849
Plymouth 846
Dodge 845
Ford 845
Mazda 841
Subaru 841
Toyota 838
Mitsubishi 833
Hyundai 832
Nissan 831
Land Rover 812
Volkswagen 795
Kia 786
Suzuki 781
Isuzu 780
Daewoo 737
Source: JD Power and Associates 2003 Customer Service Index Study

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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