Saturn Retailers Tie Lexus and Jaguar for Second Place in New Dealer Satisfaction Study

Whether it's a direct response to a challenging economy and higher fuel prices or not, treatment of car-shoppers improved from 2007 to 2008 according to the newly released 2008 Pied Piper Prospect Satisfaction Index (PSI) U.S. Auto Industry Study, a unique national benchmarking study that measures how consumers are treated when shopping for a new car. The independent study sent hired anonymous shoppers into auto dealerships nationwide representing all major brands, then calculated and reported the findings using the patent-pending Pied Piper PSI process.

The 2008 study showed that a brand or dealership's efforts to improve the treatment of shoppers paralleled their retail sales success. Of U.S. car brands that improved their 2008 year-to-date retail sales, eight of the top 10 brands also increased or maintained their PSI score from 2007 to 2008. Of the 10 car brands with the worst year-to-date sales performance, eight also saw their PSI score decrease from 2007 to 2008. Acura dealerships remained at the top of the rankings again this year, followed closely by Saturn, Lexus and Jaguar.

This year auto industry salespeople were more likely to mention the availability of different financing options, to handle any required wait professionally, and to make special orders simple and easy. Despite the overall improvement, salespeople were less likely this year to ask certain fact-finding questions such as determining why the shopper was considering this brand, determining the shopper's price range, or determining how the vehicle would be used and by whom.

"Today's typical auto shopping experience is far different from the experience even five years ago, and many dealerships are changing the way they sell cars as a result," said Fran O'Hagan, President of Pied Piper Management Co., LLC, "Today's shoppers arrive at a dealership already armed with facts and figures, but in the end the dealership and salesperson still play a critical role in helping shoppers turn that raw information into the best match for the shopper's needs and desires."

Salespeople were also more likely this year to suggest an alternative brand than the one requested by the shopper. Shoppers asking for vehicles from Chrysler, Scion, Dodge, Lincoln and Kia were most likely to encounter salespeople who suggested that shoppers consider a different brand instead. "We find that salespeople from stand-alone dealerships suggest alternative brands less than five percent of the time," said O'Hagan. "In contrast, for brands predominantly sold in multi-brand dealerships, salespeople suggest alternative brands more than twenty percent of the time."

Of the 37 brands evaluated, 24 brands maintained or improved their overall Pied Piper PSI prior year performance. Overall industry gain was led by four of the top five sales volume brands, with Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota and Honda all recording improvement. Brands recording substantial improvement from 2007 to 2008 included Lexus, Cadillac, Ford, Mazda, Scion, Jeep and Suzuki.

Brands recording the largest declines over the previous year were Mitsubishi, Pontiac, Mini, Hummer and Land Rover. For domestic multi-brand companies, Ford led the way with improvements from Ford, Lincoln and Mercury and no change for Volvo. The results were mixed for GM, with solid improvement for Chevrolet and Cadillac, but declines for Saturn, GMC, Saab, Buick, Hummer and Pontiac. Similarly, Chrysler brand Jeep improved performance, while the Dodge and Chrysler brands recorded lower scores.

Among the top scoring brands, Acura salespeople ranked first in the industry for focusing attention on three to five memorable features/benefits, Jaguar salespeople ranked first for offering a business card or brochure, Lexus salespeople ranked first for asking for contact information, and Saturn salespeople ranked first for introducing themselves. Industry newcomer, Smart, led all other brands for four of the measured sales process attributes, but also finished last for ten attributes.

Telephone, Internet, and Email Response Also Measured

The 2008 study marked the first time that PPMC measured not only a shopper's experience at the dealership, but also a shopper's experience contacting the dealership separately by telephone and by internet or email. Results varied substantially by brand. For example, across the industry, when dealerships were contacted by internet or email, 64% of the dealers responded within 24 hours. Leading the way were dealerships from Infiniti, Cadillac, Lexus, Mercury, Saturn, Porsche, Ford and Acura; all of whom responded within 24 hours more than 80% of the time. In contrast, dealers from ten brands responded within 24 hours less than 50X% of the time. Of the dealerships who responded by email, on average 47% offered reasons to buy from their dealership other than just price, 66% provided a price quote, and 59% encouraged the shopper to visit their dealership in person.

The 2008 Pied Piper Prospect Satisfaction Index U.S. Auto Industry Study was conducted between July 2007 and June 2008 using anonymous shopper evaluations at 1,677 dealerships located throughout the U.S., representing approximately one in thirteen of all U.S. light vehicle dealership locations.

Source: Pied Piper Prospect Satisfaction Index

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