Improved Inventory Boosts Vehicle Purchase Satisfaction

A new J.D. Power study reveals a significant increase in customer satisfaction in 2023, driven by better inventory and moderated prices.

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The latest J.D. Power 2023 U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) Study marks a pivotal shift in customer satisfaction within the vehicle purchase process. The study indicates an increase in overall customer satisfaction, rising to 793 out of 1000 in 2023, up from 786 the previous year, largely attributed to the growing availability of new-vehicle inventory on dealership lots and the subsequent moderation in vehicle prices.

“The improved level of vehicle inventory and the easing of upward pressure on prices are the driving factors in sending sales satisfaction back in a positive direction,” said Chris Sutton, vice president of automotive retail at J.D. Power. He noted buyers are now more satisfied with the variety of inventory choices, a stark contrast to the past three years. Additionally, the increase in inventory has led to fewer buyers paying more than the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) for their new vehicle.

The study also sheds light on the disparity in satisfaction between owners of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles and electric vehicles (EVs). In both premium and mass market segments, satisfaction levels among ICE vehicle owners surpass those of EV owners. Among mass market EV owners, satisfaction is at 790, compared to 848 for ICE vehicle owners. In the premium segment, EV owner satisfaction is at 831 versus 866 for ICE vehicle owners.

The study found a smaller percentage of buyers paying above MSRP. With improved inventory, the trend of dealers charging more than the suggested price for vehicles is diminishing. This shift, while potentially impacting immediate dealer profitability, is enhancing overall sales satisfaction. The study noted a decrease in the percentage of mass market buyers paying above MSRP, from 25% in 2022 to 15% in 2023. The trend is similar among premium vehicle buyers, with only 10% paying more than MSRP this year, down from 19% a year ago.

However, the study also points out that satisfaction with price, though improving, remains below pre-pandemic levels. Buyers of mass market vehicles rated the fairness of price paid at 8.04 on a 10-point scale, slightly lower than the 8.14 rating in 2020. Premium vehicle buyers provided a rating of 8.18, down from 8.42 in 2020.

Another aspect highlighted is the gap in salesperson expertise, especially in dealing with EVs. EV buyers perceive lower expertise among dealer staff compared to their ICE counterparts. This is reflected in the lower satisfaction ratings for dealer staff expertise among EV buyers in both mass market and premium segments.

“Salespeople need to show EV buyers how to charge their vehicles at home and what’s involved in using a public charging station,” Sutton said.

The study also recognized the top-performing brands in sales satisfaction. Porsche ranks highest among premium brands, followed by Infiniti and Alfa Romeo. In the mass market category, Buick leads for the second consecutive year, with GMC and Chevrolet tying for the third spot.

Conducted from July to September, the U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) Study is based on responses from 37,234 buyers who purchased or leased their new vehicle from March through May. The study provides a comprehensive analysis of the new-vehicle purchase experience, evaluating factors such as the delivery process, dealer personnel, negotiation and dealership facilities.

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