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Smarter Car Buyers Are Tough to Please, Research Firm Finds

From Associated Press

Saturn and Lexus owners had the best car-buying experiences at dealers last year, but consumers are getting harder to please in the showroom, a leading industry marketing firm said Thursday.

J.D. Power & Associates said consumers’ buying satisfaction declined slightly for the first time in the 10 years it has done its sales-satisfaction survey of new-car and light-truck owners.

The average score for auto makers fell to 119 from 122 in 1995, “the first measurable indication of consumer frustration with the traditional approach to new-vehicle sales,” the firm said.

One reason for that is buyers have access to more information on new cars and prices today through the media, including the Internet, said Jon Osborn, senior project director at Agoura Hills-based J.D. Power.

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“An informed shopper may have as much, if not more, knowledge going into a dealership than some salespeople,” he said. “The expectations that these individuals have regarding what they want and what they are willing to pay are greater than ever.”

Consumers are also more aware of alternatives to the traditional dealership, such as no-haggle pricing, the “superstore” format and interactive computer shopping, the firm said.

The increased research consumers are doing before they enter a dealership may also be contributing to a five-year trend of buyers shopping at fewer dealers and looking at fewer brands before making a decision, J.D. Power said.

The survey released Thursday measures the customer’s satisfaction with the salesperson, delivery of the new vehicle and the condition of the car or truck upon delivery. J.D. Power surveyed 52,066 buyers of new cars, minivans, pickups and sport-utility vehicles bought in November and December.

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Saturn, the small-car subsidiary of General Motors Corp., and Toyota’s luxury brand, Lexus, tied at the top of the survey with a score of 154. Saturn was also ranked No. 1 last year, but with a score of 160. Lexus came up from third place last year, when it scored 149.

The survey found that 86% of Saturn owners and 89% of Lexus owners said they were very satisfied with the way their car was sold and delivered, well above the industry average of 73%.

Sweden’s Volvo moved up to third place this year for its highest ranking and score ever--151. It was followed by Cadillac at 146, and Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz tied for fifth at 145.

The United States and Europe each had four nameplates in the top 10, while Japan had two. Last year, European auto makers led the pack for the first time with half of the top 10 rankings.

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