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MINI, Lexus get top marks in sales satisfaction

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(Read caption) This commercial file photo courtesy of BMW Group shows the 2012 MINI Cooper SD Coupe. MINI gets high marks in customer sales satisfaction, getting the top spot in J.D. Power and Associates' rankings for the third year in a row.

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Earlier, we discussed how a range of factors affect customer satisfaction with new automobiles. Included in that mix is the sales process, which begins with shoppers researching possible purchases, and ends with buyers driving their new cars home.

J.D. Power's 2012 U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index Study reveals that, once again, Lexus and MINI are masters of the sales process and of making customers happy.

Methodology

To rank automakers for its latest Sales Satisfaction Index, J.D. Power surveyed 31,386 consumers who bought or leased a new vehicle in May 2012. Power polled those consumers between August and October.

As in previous years, Power divided dealerships into two groups: those where customers shopped but didn't buy, and those where customers ultimately bought or leased their new vehicles.

The former were evaluated on five criteria, each of which carried a slightly different weight in Power's final score: "salesperson (20%); fairness of price (12%); facility (6%); inventory (6%); and experience negotiating (5%)". The latter were evaluated on four criteria: "working out the deal (17%); salesperson (13%); delivery process (11%); and facility (10%)".

On each criteria, dealers were assigned scores ranging from 0 to 1,000. 

Luxury rankings

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For the second year in a row, Lexus landed at the top of J.D. Power's Sales Satisfaction Index for luxury brands. The automaker received an average score of 737 -- up from 715 last year. 

Lexus was followed by Infiniti, Cadillac, Lincoln, Porsche, and Mercedes-Benz, all of which scored above the luxury average of 716. For reference, Infiniti and Lincoln landed below that line in 2011, which implies that both have invested time and energy in improving the sales process.

Faring not so well: BMW, Land Rover, Acura, and Audi. Like last year, Volvo finished at the back of the pack, with a score of 678. Still, that's an improvement over 2011, when Volvo received an average score of 666.

(Note: Jaguar wasn't included in J.D. Power's rankings because its sample size was too small.)

Mass-market rankings

In the mass-market segment, MINI maintained its spot at the top of the Sales Satisfaction Index for the third year running. The brand known for pint-sized rides earned a not-so-pint-sized score of 712. That is, however, down from 723, MINI's score last year.

Buick held onto the #2 rung with a score of 706 -- far better than last year's 682. Also faring well were GMC, Fiat, Chevrolet, Subaru, Ford, Honda, and Volkswagen, all of which scored higher than the industry average of 657.

In the below-average group, we find Toyota, Hyundai, Scion, Mazda, Nissan, Chrysler, Kia, Ram, Mitsubishi, and Dodge. For the second year in a row, Jeep had the dubious distinction of coming in at the bottom of Power's list -- though the brand's score of 618 was an improvement over last year's 606.

Other key findings

During the course of its survey, J.D. Power uncovered quite a few trends. Among the most interesting:

Our take

Today's auto market is a crowded one, with many vehicles and brands clamoring for attention. Customer loyalty has fallen largely by the wayside, and Americans' predisposition toward U.S. brands has dissipated. Competing models are so similar that often the only thing separating them is the dealership experience. Making customers feel happy and welcome can make or break a sale.

For us, the biggest takeaway of J.D. Power's 2012 Sales Satisfaction Index is that dealers are increasingly aware of these facts, and many are going the extra distance to improve the shopping experience.

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