American consumer satisfaction with the cars we drive has improved for the second straight year, up 1.2 percent over last year to reach 84, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).
That score matches the auto industry's all-time high from 2009 when aggressive dealer incentives combined with the federal government's 'Cash for Clunkers' program to help creates incentives for purchases.
However, the ACSI rained on their own parade when they also said that in the aggregate, "customer satisfaction actually stays flat at 75.9 percent on a 0 to 100 scale, which won't help revive consumer spending or the sluggish economy at large."
The good news is that about 60 percent of the auto brands showed upticks in their ACSI scores compared to 2011. Specifically, 4 of 7 Asian nameplates; 2 of 3 European car makers and 6 of 9 American brands earned higher ACSI scores.
ACSI reports that domestic nameplates show the greatest improvement overall however they continue to trail both Asian and European cars. Ford continues to hold the lead at 86 (+1 percent) followed by an unchanged General Motors at 84. Chrysler stays in last place overall but makes the most progress in customer satisfaction with a 4 percent surge to 81.
As in previous years, ACSI reports that luxury brands have the upper hand when it comes to pleasing customers. Lincoln recaptures the industry lead with a 5 percent gain to 90. The downside for Lincoln is that high satisfaction may reflect a loyal but dwindling customer base.
Toyota's Lexus follows Lincoln with an 89, up 2 percent from its industry-leading score last year. GM's Buick gained 2 percentage points to 87 and Cadillac dipped 1 point to 86. Germany's BMW rebounded from a sharp decline last year with a 4-point jump to tie Cadillac at 86.
Several automakers cluster at or within 1 point of the industry average of 84. The above average group at 85 includes Hyundai (+2); Mercedes-Benz (-1); Toyota (-2) and Volkswagen (+1).
The ACSI loss for Toyota's namesake brand is enough to strip away its number 1 title from 2011; while Honda's downturn places it below average for the first time in ACSI history. ACSI attributes the problems for both to the large number of recalls over the past year. ACSI says recalls for quality defects have a negative impact on customer satisfaction for automobile manufacturers.
ACSI added that while Ford and GM show a mixture of gains and declines across their nameplates, all three Chrysler brands moved forward in 2012. Nevertheless, Chrysler continues to play catch up in the overall rankings. Dodge and Chrysler continue to "hug the bottom of the industry" and sandwiched between the two, GM's GMC product line tumbled 4 percent to 80.