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The American Customer Satisfaction Index for automakers from the University of Michigan is being released today, and sitting at the very top are Cadillac and Lexus in a two-way tie for first place. The study continues its Detroit lovefest by giving the third spot to a tie-up of Lincoln-Mercury, Buick and Honda. And that moves us into spot No. 7, where Toyota shows up in a tie with Volkswagen.

Great news for American automakers? Great fodder for the marketing departments at least. Automotive News (sub. req.) quotes Claes Fornell, the director of the MSU's National Quality Research Center as saying the great leap in customer satisfaction is, oddly enough, at least partially due to a huge drop in sales. Fornell says that the few people buying American cars are hardcore American car drivers, and are more likely to respond as satisfied to a survey.

The good news, Fornell says, is that a smaller, more devoted group of buyers is more likely to be repeat buyers. In a New York Times story, Fornell says, "In most cases that's not a good thing, to increase the satisfaction of their customers by losing them. But in Detroit's case, it's probably not that bad. It leaves them with a smaller, more satisfied customer base that they might be able to manage better and build from."

In the study, Volkswagen was the most improved, bettering its placement by 6.2% from last year, and Ford jumped 5%.

A table of scores since 1996 is available here and should be updated sometime today with 2009 numbers.

[Sources: Automotive News and The New York Times]

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