WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. — Lexus improves since 2006 to rank highest in customer satisfaction with the new-vehicle sales process, as the industry records overall improvement and achieves a record high for a second consecutive year, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2007 Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) Study.

The study is a comprehensive analysis of the new-vehicle purchase experience. Overall customer satisfaction is measured based on five factors: dealership facility, salesperson, paperwork/finance process, delivery process and vehicle price.

Lexus ranks highest in satisfying buyers with the new-vehicle sales process, achieving an SSI score of 897 on a 1,000-point scale, and improving by 10 points from 2006. Following Lexus in the rankings are HUMMER, Jaguar, Lincoln and Mercedes-Benz, respectively, rounding out the top five nameplates. For a second consecutive year, the industry achieves a record high overall SSI score, improving by five points to 852 from the previous record of 847 set in 2006.

“Lexus improves by four rank positions from 2006, which is a gain driven primarily by increased customer delight with the dealership facility, salesperson performance and vehicle price,” said Tom Gauer, senior director of automotive retail research at J.D. Power and Associates. “For example, Lexus salespeople show particular concern for helping customers stay within their budgets, choosing the right vehicle for their needs, as well as for making the negotiation process clear and understandable. HUMMER receives a score of 895, up by 21 points from 2006, and improves notably in the vehicle price and paperwork/finance process.”

The study finds 44 percent of new-vehicle buyers report spending more than they planned for their new vehicle. These customers provide satisfaction scores that average 67 points less than customers who say they spent within the amount they had budgeted. However, a salesperson who carefully explains the vehicle’s features and demonstrates its value can more than compensate for this decrease in satisfaction.

“While all new-vehicle buyers hope to get a good deal, customers are receptive to spending more than they originally budgeted provided that the salesperson does a good job of educating the customer about the features and benefits that they are receiving,” said Gauer. “Customers are looking to the salesperson to help them buy a vehicle that fits their budget, but they are certainly open to spending more if the salesperson can successfully convey the value of the vehicle.”

The study also finds that customers whose expectations are exceeded during the sales process are much more likely to return to the dealership for customer-paid service work. Approximately 61 percent of customers who described their sales experience as “above expectations” say that they will definitely return to the dealership for paid service, compared with 37 percent of customers who say that their experience merely met their expectations.

The 2007 Sales Satisfaction Index Study is based on responses from 38,654 new-vehicle buyers who registered their vehicles in May 2007.