Image: Employees of Toyota Motor Corp. work on assembly line producing Lexus vehicles.
Kiyoshi Ota  /  Reuters file
Toyota Motor Corp.’s luxury Lexus was the top-performing brand, with a score of 87.
updated 8/14/2007 12:14:22 AM ET 2007-08-14T04:14:22

U.S. car buyers appear to be more satisfied with their purchases than ever, despite some quality stumbles by Asian brands, according to a survey released Tuesday.

The consumer satisfaction rate for vehicles rose 1 point this year to a score of 82 out of 100, a record in the 12-year history of the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Toyota Motor Corp.’s luxury Lexus had a score of 87. Rounding out the top performers with scores of 86 were BMW, General Motors Corp.’s Buick and Cadillac, and Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln and Mercury brands.

The survey noted that Japanese and Korean automakers saw their largest single-year drop in customer satisfaction since 1996. The Toyota brand, in particular, dropped 3 points to 84, which the survey blamed on increasing vehicle recalls and poor customer service.

Claes Fornell, head of the index, said U.S. automakers are narrowing the gap with their Asian rivals but they’re still behind. Chrysler’s Jeep, for example, was the worst performer in the survey, with a score of 75.

In July, domestic brands saw their sales drop below 50 percent of the U.S. market for the first time in history. Toyota surpassed GM in global vehicle sales for the first half of the calendar year, selling 4.72 million vehicle to GM’s 4.67 million. Many analysts believe Toyota will likely beat GM for the full year in both sales and production.

Still, Toyota’s troubles give domestic brands an opening, Fornell said.

“I think some people would be surprised at this because after all, Toyota is highly regarded,” he said, adding that Toyota is aware of the difficulties. “If you grow at this level all the time, it’s simply more difficult to make sure everything is done all right.”

In the survey, people who bought cars within the past three years were asked to rate their satisfaction level compared with their expectations. They also were asked to rate how their vehicle compares with the ideal vehicle, and to rate their overall satisfaction.

The survey questioned approximately 11,312 people by telephone from April through June. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 1 point when rating the entire industry and 2 points on individual manufacturers, Fornell said.

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