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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lexus Rated Tops for Satisfaction

LOS ANGELES -- Lexus owners are the happiest drivers on the road when it comes to satisfaction with their cars' reliability and dealer customer service.

Japanese automaker Lexus came out on top in J.D. Power and Associates' 1997 survey of driver satisfaction released Wednesday, followed by Infiniti and Acura, also based in Japan. Germany's Mercedes-Benz was fourth.

Cadillac and Saturn, in a three-way tie at No. 5 with British-made Jaguar, were the only U.S. carmakers in the top 10. Both are owned by General Motors.

The common link among top-ranking companies is that they have developed a corporate culture that stresses keeping the customer happy long after the car is sold, said Ron Conlin, J.D. Powers' director of research.

"It's more being than doing,'' he said. "Those at the top, they don't approach customer treatment in terms of tasks that they do. It's in terms of who they are. Satisfaction is more than just checking off activities.''

While the top rankings were dominated by expensive nameplates, high rankings by Saturn and Japan's Honda, No. 9, suggest that good customer service isn't determined by price, Conlin said.

Saturn, known for its emphasis on low-key, no-haggle dealers, has succeeded in extending its customer-friendly approach to the service department.

The issue is an important one for dealers. The study also found that consumers increasingly are abandoning dealer service departments in favor of independent garages for repairs and routine maintenance.

"New car [profit] margins are going down, and keeping that consumer over the lifetime of ownership period is going to be increasingly important to the car dealer,'' Conlin said.

Problems reported by customers went beyond a desire for courteous treatment in the service department. Time-strapped customers are looking for ways to be productive while waiting for their cars. One solution, said Conlin, is for dealers to provide work areas that give customers access to telephones.

Gender also appeared to be an issue. Female respondents said they preferred female service employees. Men preferred working with other males, Conlin said. "Perhaps we are due for a new era in satisfaction. Car dealers need to think outside the box. I believe the way cars are being serviced today, we need something new similar to the Saturn, Lexus and Infinity concept of the late '80s," said Conlin.

Lexus scored 174 points in the survey, against an industry average of 141. Infiniti's score was 170 and Acura's was 159.

The survey ranked 20 automakers who scored at or above the industry average. Those falling below the average included Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Hyundai of Korea and Nissan of Japan.

The survey was based on mailed responses from more than 25,000 car owners who have had their vehicles for 12 to 14 months.

-- The Associated Press