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You all like your cars less in 2020 than you did in 2019, according to a new survey

The American Consumer Satisfaction Index polled over 10,000 vehicle owners to find out how they rated their experience.

2021 Lexus ES
Lexus owners continue to be the most satisfied vehicle owners in the US.

Cars today are quantifiably better than they were a decade ago. They're safer, more comfortable, smarter and more efficient. But things aren't all sunshine and roses, according to the 2020 American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey released Tuesday, because for the second year in a row, our satisfaction with our cars has gone down.

Before we get into the numbers, let's look at the ACSI's methodology, because sample size means a lot when it comes to these kinds of things. In this case the sample size is reasonable, with over 10,000 randomly chosen consumers interviewed via email. The data gained from those interviews was fed into a model which was then extrapolated further, and then compared with instances of customer loyalty and customer complaints.

Satisfaction is down overall (1.3% from last year, which was down 4% from the year before) across the automotive industry. But how does that play out across various market segments? Luxury cars take a bigger hit than mass-market vehicles, with luxury cars falling by 4% vs. just 1% for the less-expensive models. Is this an instance of people being charged more for their vehicles expecting more in return? Probably.

So, going beyond where a car sits in the market, how does where it's made affect its rating? European vehicles overall scored better (79) than vehicles made anywhere else, but that Asian-made vehicles are not far behind, with a score just one point lower (78). American cars scored 76. All of these scores are down from 2019.


Lincoln, what happened between 2019 and 2020?

Craig Cole/Roadshow

Looking more closely at the US automakers, specifically the Big Three, only Fiat-Chrysler managed to improve its score this year, but its improvement only brings it up to GM's low-point of 77 points. Ford fell the furthest, with a high of 84 points in 2016, now falling to 76 in 2020. The ACSI puts most of Ford's falldown to a big hit for the Lincoln brand, a nameplate which, in my opinion, has turned itself around for the better in recent years.

General Motors' decline was mostly the fault of slipping ratings for both Buick and Chevrolet, while GMC held steady, keeping things from falling lower. FCA's upswing marks the first time it's been on par with Ford and GM in five years, and this comes mostly from improved customer sentiment towards Dodge and Chrysler vehicles. Ram has consistently scored high for FCA.

But which manufacturers managed to score in the top five overall? The number one spot belongs to Lexus with a score of 82, behind which -- all tied -- are Audi, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz and Ram. 

The most significant drop in satisfaction from last year to this year belongs to Lincoln, with 6%. Porsche isn't featured on the list at all: It's a brand that typically scores well in these kinds of surveys, and the reason for its omission isn't made clear. I suspect it would shuffle more than a few of these brands around, had it been included.

So, what does it all mean? Why are things down across the board when the year-to-year model changes for most vehicles are pretty minimal? If I had to guess, I'd say that it probably has more to do with the state of the world thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and its resulting economic downturn than it does with the vehicles themselves. People are down about everything, it seems, but that gets thrown into sharp relief when you look at the ACSI's chart of the overall satisfaction indices for other industries.


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