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Study: Buyers happier when helped with auto tech

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Auto dealers who spend more time explaining new technology features to buyers have more-satisfied customers, according to a new J.D. Power survey.

The 2016 U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index Study released Thursday found that as vehicles become more complex, car buyers need assistance from product specialists to learn how to operate all the features.

The findings follow a trend. In last year’s study, J.D. Power found that dealers that use tablets, computer displays or gadgets in the sales process yielded higher satisfaction than dealers who didn’t.

The 2016 study found that 24 percent of luxury vehicle owners and 16 percent of owners of non-luxury vehicles worked with a salesperson and a product specialist when buying or leasing a new car. Those numbers were up 19 percent and 15 percent respectively from two years ago.

“Owners can be challenged with the complexity of today’s vehicles,” said Chris Sutton, vice president of the automotive retail practice at J.D. Power. “More dealerships are employing product specialists, and more brands — especially the luxury brands — are requiring that the dealers have them to help the customer have a more thorough ownership experience with their new car or truck.”

Dealerships can make owners aware of a car’s features and teach them how to use it. They can help pair a new owner’s smartphone to the vehicle’s Bluetooth system, for example. Owners who had worked with a salesperson and a product specialist are seven points more satisfied on a 1,000-point scale than those who work with only a salesperson.

The sales satisfaction study, now in its 30th year, measures satisfaction with the sales experience among new-vehicle buyers and rejecters — those who shop a dealership and purchase elsewhere. Satisfaction is calculated on a 1,000-point scale. It is based on nine key areas, including the dealer facility, inventory, pricing, salespeople and experience negotiating.

Porsche ranked highest in sales satisfaction among luxury brands for the second straight year, with a score of 824, improving 72 points from last year. Buick ranked highest among mass-market brands, with a score of 809.

“We know a positive customer experience goes well beyond great product,” Duncan Aldred, vice president of global Buick sales, service and marketing, said in a statement. “Our sales satisfaction ranking shows that our ability to deliver a meaningful purchase-to-ownership process is paying off for our customers well beyond when they leave our stores.”

This is the first time Buick has ranked first since 2008. Last year’s mass-market topper, Mini, scored 797, a 35-point increase from 2015.

General Motors Co.’s Cadillac tied for fourth in sales satisfaction among luxury brands with BMW with a score of 807. Cadillac was the only luxury brand from the Detroit automakers to come in higher than average.

In mass market brands, Chevrolet ranked third with a score of 789. GM came in fourth at 786. Ford held its position in seventh with a score of 770. On the luxury end, Lincoln scored just below Cadillac with a score of 806.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles brands all performed below average among mass-market brands, with Jeep, Dodge and placing in the bottom three for satisfaction scores. Ram scored lowest with 733. Chrysler had a score of 750.

The J.D. Power study also found that buyers born between 1977 and 1994 are the toughest demographic to sell to.

“Gen Y has high expectations and less experience than their older counterparts with the vehicle-buying process, which are likely contributing to their lower satisfaction,” Sutton said.

ithibodeau@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2359

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau