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by Tim Beissmann

Lincoln, the luxury division of Ford in the US, has pipped Toyota’s premium arm, Lexus, to become the highest-ranked automotive manufacturer in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) for 2012.

Lincoln scored 90 points out of the maximum 100 in this year’s index, up from 86 in 2011, propelling it one point clear of Lexus, although ACSI admits the American brand’s high satisfaction rating reflects a loyal but dwindling customer base.

The result continues a tit for tat battle between the two brands at the top of the rankings table, with Lincoln previously taking first place in 2004 and 2010 and Lexus holding the title from 2007 to 2009 and in 2011.

Lexus’ slip to second place in the 2012 ACSI mirrors its slide in J.D. Power’s 2012 UK Vehicle Ownership Satisfaction Study, where Jaguar dethroned the Japanese car maker for the first time in 11 years.

2012 American Customer Satisfaction Index automotive rankings:

1. Lincoln – 90
2. Lexus – 89
=3. Buick – 87
=3. Subaru – 87
=5. Cadillac – 86
=5. BMW – 86
=7. Hyundai – 85
=7. Volkswagen – 85
=7. Mercedes-Benz – 85
=7. Toyota – 85
11. Chevrolet – 84
Industry Average – 84
=12. Nissan – 83
=12. Jeep – 83
=12. Honda – 83
=12. Ford – 83
=16. Kia – 82
=16. Mazda – 82
=16. All others – 82
19. Dodge – 81
20. GMC – 80
21. Chrysler – 78

US manufacturers performed particularly well in the 2012 ACSI, with General Motors’ Buick tying with Subaru in third place, and Cadillac rounding out the top five with prestige German brand BMW.

Customer satisfaction across the industry increased for the second straight year, up 1.2 per cent from 2011, and matches the all-time high from 2009 when the government’s ‘cash for clunkers’ program and aggressive dealer incentives helped stimulate the recession-humbled US automotive industry.

ASCI founder Claes Fornell said while 2012’s average customer satisfaction ranking was the same as it was three years ago, there has been as shift away from price promotions towards better quality.

“Overall industry sales are up compared to a year ago despite higher prices,” Fornell said. “An ongoing commitment to quality seems like a workable formula for sustaining both customer satisfaction and sales growth.”

Subaru was the standout as the only mainstream brand among the luxury marques inside the top six, beating its best ever rating by four points and increasing its market share.

Nine brands clustered around the industry average. Jeep improved the most with a 5.1 per cent improvement over 2011, while Honda slipped below the industry average ranking for the first time in the ACSI’s 18-year history.

Toyota, which shared first position with Lexus and Cadillac last year, dropped 2.4 per cent to equal seventh overall, which Fornell said was directly related to quality issues.

“While Japan’s production is back on track after last year’s earthquake and tsunami, both Toyota and Honda have had quality issues as they race to recapture market share.

“These two automakers, once known for setting the bar for quality, have issued a large number of recalls over the past year. ACSI data show that recalls for quality defects have a negative impact on customer satisfaction for automobile manufacturers.”

Kia and Mazda both improved from the previous year but continue to rank down the bottom of the table, while American favourites Dodge, GMC and Chrysler languish in the bottom three positions.




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