We already posted on the result of the American Consumer Satisfaction Index a couple of days ago, but I'd like to take a different approach to this topic. A coworker was kind enough to share a link straight to the raw numbers, which taken as a whole tend to tell a different story than what we're hearing from JD Power or the domestic automakers' commercials.

First, how about some background on how the data is collected? The survey takes data from owners of a particular vehicle, not just prospective buyers. Their FAQ clearly states ?Only those who qualify as customers are then interviewed.? That?s important to this analysis, in my opinion. That being said, what can we derive from this data?
While Dr. Claes Fornell states that domestic manufacturers need to spend less on incentives and advertising and instead spend that money on quality improvements, my fellow Autoblogger Randall disagreed and stated that the domestic manufacturers are simply suffering from a problem with ?public perception?; a comment very similar to what I?ve heard from many other fans of domestic brands. Sorry, Randall, but I simply can?t reconcile that with the survey data.

Hit the ?Read? link below (or click here to open the link in a new window) and scroll down about halfway to see the automotive industry results. Check out the scores for Dodge, Jeep, Chevrolet, and Ford; the bread-and-butter American brands, I believe. Note their ?baseline? score from 1994, and then check out where they?re at now.  For the most part, you?ll see little to no improvement over the past 11 years. Those are score from actual owners, not just the general public, and that?s what I think the Big 3 have bigger problems than just those of ?perception?. They?re also at odds with what JD Power is telling us. You should be able to guess which numbers the domestic manufacturers are using in their advertising.

Interestingly enough, American brands such as Buick and Cadillac that are currently doing well have been doing well for as long as the survey has been in place. That, in my opinion, indicates something more than just a general bias against domestic vehicles among the survey participants or those compiling the data.

It would seem to me that, for the people purchasing domestic products, the initial low cost of the vehicle is not lending itself to above-average satisfaction at a later point. I seem to recall a saying that goes something like ?the bitterness of low quality remains long after low pricing is forgotten.?  The correction that needs to be applied, then, is not simply better advertising, for that?s unlikely to successfully convince the people that have already bought the vehicle. In my opinion, the only thing that will work here is to simply build a better car.

I will agree with Randall that investing in quality takes many years to pay off, and I think he puts it well that ?it?s like learning to swim while drowning.? But by constantly delaying what must be done, the Day of Reckoning isn?t getting pushed back far enough to do much good.

Inevitably, the data that people will tend to believe is going to be that which supports their particular bias, so I?ve got little doubt that this post will change anybody?s mind, and in that regard I guess this is little more than an exercise in mental masturbation. But, hey, don?t say that I didn?t try.

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