Saturn buyers were less satisfied with their dealers than were customers of five other automotive franchises, ousting Saturn from its long-held top position in the annual J.D. Power & Associates survey of car sales satisfaction.
In sales of 1999 cars, Jaguar, Volvo and General Motors Corp.'s Cadillac tied for first place; Land Rover came in second, and Mercedes-Benz was third. Saturn finished in a tie for fourth place with BMW and Lexus, the Agoura Hills-based market research firm said. It was the first time in five years that Saturn did not attain the top spot.
Saturn, the small-car unit of GM, apparently slipped because more customers were feeling pressured in the car-buying process. J.D. Power said the percentage of buyers saying they were under pressure increased to 18% from 13% a year ago.
"We noted what the customer interpreted as being a little more negotiation with the deal, especially with the trade-in or the financing and insurance," Loretta Seymour, J.D. Power director of sales satisfaction research, said Wednesday.
That came as a surprise to officials at Saturn, whose success has been based in large part on its friendly image and no-haggle pricing.
Spokesman Tom Wilkinson said Saturn's own research shows its customers remained pleased with the Saturn sales process.
J.D. Power speculated that lower sales at Saturn in the last year have put more pressure on its salespeople to maintain profits.
The study also found that overall customer satisfaction with the experience of buying a new vehicle remained virtually unchanged. But more customers reported they were satisfied with the price they paid, a reflection of competitive pressures on the industry.
J.D. Power surveyed 42,700 buyers of 1999 cars, minivans, pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles bought in January or February.