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Saturn Again Ranks at the Top in Sales Satisfaction: J.D. Power Study

August 8, 2001

Consumers continue to prefer a hassle-free new-vehicle sales experience that features non-negotiable retail pricing, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2001 Sales Satisfaction Study(SM) released Aug. 8.

Saturn, the only automotive brand to provide consumers with non-negotiable vehicle pricing since the brand was introduced in the early 1990s, came out on top of the study’s satisfaction index for the second consecutive year.

"This makes it clear that the pricing model established by Saturn retailers works very effectively for its customers," said Chris Denove, a partner at J.D. Power and Associates. "What makes Saturn’s performance so exceptional is that it achieves this high level of sales satisfaction with non-luxury vehicles."

Ten of the top 12 brands in the sales satisfaction index sell luxury vehicles.

"Luxury dealers generate higher customer satisfaction scores because they provide an environment with less pressure and sell to more sophisticated customers who feel empowered when working with dealers," said Denove. "Saturn buyers, by comparison, tend to be less trustful of dealers, which makes their high satisfaction scores especially impressive."

Following Saturn in the ranking are Cadillac, Lexus, Infiniti and Jaguar.

"Overwhelmingly, and contrary to popular belief, most buyers believe that their selling dealer is honest and courteous," said Denove.

The study, now in its 15th year, reveals that new-vehicle buyers overall are very satisfied with their selling dealers, giving them an average rating of 8.5 out of a possible 10.

The findings suggest that hard-sell tactics employed by some dealers could be backfiring. This is particularly important for vehicle manufacturers, because more than one million shoppers each year decide not to buy a particular vehicle make simply because they didn’t like the way they were treated by the dealer when they walked into the showroom.

"With so many truly excellent vehicles to choose from, manufacturers need to make sure that their dealer’s sales experience matches improvements in vehicle quality," Denove said.

Although customer service is important, the biggest reason people choose one dealer over another is price. According to the study, one-half of all buyers say it is more important to find a dealer with low prices than one that provides friendly customer service.

The average customer spends nearly three hours at their selling dealer. The speed with which a customer is able to complete their transaction is directly linked to satisfaction. In particular, buyers are most frustrated with wasted time, such as waiting to enter the business office to finalize the paperwork.

"One of the surest ways for a dealer to improve its customer satisfaction is to minimize the number of employees a customer must work with to complete their transaction," said Denove. "Turning a customer over from one salesman to another in an attempt to close the deal is definitely counterproductive."

It took longer to complete the sale when buyers experienced this "turnover" approach. They felt higher levels of sales pressure and reported lower levels of satisfaction overall.

The study suggests that local family-operated dealerships will not give way to large nationally branded automobile chains in the near future. Though consumers believe that large national dealers may provide better pricing, most consumers say they would rather buy their next vehicle from a dealership operated by a local business person.

The Sales Satisfaction Study is based on more than 46,000 responses from buyers and lessees of 2000 and 2001 model cars and light trucks. The study, which was conducted in April and May of 2001, provides the automotive industry with a comprehensive analysis of the new-vehicle purchase experience and gives vehicle manufacturers an understanding of customer needs and insights into improving the sales process.

About J.D. Power and Associates

Headquartered in Agoura Hills, Calif., J.D. Power and Associates is a global marketing information services firm operating in business sectors including market research, forecasting, consulting, training and customer satisfaction.

The firm’s quality and satisfaction measurements are based on actual customer responses from millions of consumers annually.

For more information, visit www.jdpa.com.

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