Overall satisfaction with new vehicles is declining, according to the recently released U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) study released by J. D. Power. On this episode of CBT Now, host Shyann Malone is joined by vice president and head of auto benchmarking and mobility development at J.D. Power, Kristin Kolodge, to discuss why buyers are less happy with their cars and whether dealers and manufacturers should be concerned.
The APEAL study, now in its 28th year of research, examines consumer experiences with current model year vehicles, meaning all the cars utilized in J.D. Power’s analysis were built in 2023. Kolodge notes that all of the 84,000 participants in this year’s research were surveyed 90 days after buying their car. Unfortunately, 2023 is the second consecutive year where scores decreased, an event that has only happened once before over the last three decades.
Trends that first appeared in last year’s study deepened in 2023. Out of the ten categories used to measure customer satisfaction, sentiments relating to vehicle exteriors soured the most. Differing opinions between new and refreshed car models also widened. “It was really interesting to see even looking at the vehicles that were considered all-new [and] completely redesigned versus those that were new, there was only a three-point satisfaction difference between those two types of categories,” reports Kolodge. “Very surprising because usually we’ll see much higher satisfaction with new vehicles.” These two scores indicate that customers are no longer impressed with the cars on the market, despite automakers launching new and innovative designs.
One area did see an improvement over the previous year. Kolodge notes that customer satisfaction scores were more positive in regard to driving range. This category includes both electric and combustion engine vehicles, which means that battery efficiency, as well as mileage, has improved. “That was our bright spot in overall satisfaction with the vehicle,” she remarks, although she notes there is one caveat: between 2022 and 2023, gas prices dropped 7%, a shift that could have contributed to this year’s higher fuel economy ratings.
This year’s APEAL study offers several important takeaways for both manufacturers and dealers. Kolodge urges OEMs to recognize that their competition has changed. The automotive space is no longer occupied by legacy car makers. Now, disruptive brands like Tesla and Rivian are also vying for customers. “The lens of who they should really be benchmarking really [started] to open up,” she notes. On the dealership level, franchises whose brands saw lower scores in the 2023 APEAL study should prioritize taking care of the customer. Retailers have an immense impact on how buyers view their purchases. By enhancing the in-store and online experience, dealers can help their company’s scores recover in time for 2024.