Just like college football, auto rivalries can get vicious. A Chevy fanatic will stop at nothing to prove their vehicle’s superiority to a Ford loyalist. Now imagine if an Alabama fan in a Ford has a run-in with an Auburn fan in a Chevy - someone’s not making it out alive. Other than brand loyalty, what makes drivers choose one automaker over another and which brands came out on top for 2018? The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) takes a deeper dive into this question. As we head into the new year, we’ll take a look back into the top-rated car brands for customer satisfaction in 2018 for both mass-market and luxury segments.

What’s in the ACSI Report?

Benchmark table
The ACSI auto survey evaluates driver satisfaction with benchmarks like driving performance and dependability. (image: ACSI)

The ACSI Automobile Report 2018 measures customer satisfaction with the largest companies based on market share with both domestic and foreign auto brands included. After surveying thousands of randomly selected drivers that have recently purchased their vehicles about their overall driving experience with their auto brand, the ACSI reports on the top winners in the mass-market and luxury segments.

Survey results are based on benchmarks such as driving performance and dependability. So why do ACSI ratings matter? They seem to be a strong indicator of company performance since brands at the top of the list regularly show higher earnings and better stock performance than their competitors.

Overall Auto Industry Results

Despite the rising costs of new cars, the study shows customers are also seeing increased value. The auto industry as a whole has improved in customer satisfaction from 2017, up 1.2% to reach 82/100. It currently ranks fourth out of all other ACSI ranked industries, only trailing television/video players, breweries and soft drinks (tough contenders to beat). Luxury brands dominate the top of the list, beating out mass-market brands for the top 3 overall spots.

Domestic vs. international

Domestic vs. International Automakers

In addition to rating luxury and mass-market brands, the ACSI study compares customer satisfaction of foreign auto brands to domestic. In 2018, European automakers have surpassed Japanese and Korean brands for the first time in several years earning the highest average scores. US automakers fall last behind Japanese/Korean in the overall reports. For US brands in the mass market segment, GM grabs the number one spot with Ford and Fiat Chrysler claiming the 2nd and 3rd respectively.

Top Mass Market Automakers

Mass market auto brands
Subaru earns the #1 spot with Honda and Toyota tied at #2. (image: ACSI)

This year, Subaru overtook both Honda and Toyota to earn the number one spot in mass-market vehicles for customer satisfaction. Subaru's results can be attributed to the brand's best-in-class reliability and safety ratings. 2018 was a solid year for Subaru in more ways than one with the release of their only 3-row crossover, the Subaru Ascent, and a record-breaking sales month in August of 2018. Overall Subie sales were up 5% year over year in mid-2018. 

Japanese based Toyota and Honda tied for second place, but while Honda's customer satisfaction ratings grew over last year, Toyota's fell 3% losing the top spot. Following the industry trends of the ACSI survey, Toyota's sales fell 2% year over year as of August 2018. Although Volkswagen landed fourth on the list, the German automaker earns a 'most improved' award for mass market auto brand, climbing 4% over last year. This can be attributed to the brand doubling its warranty length, significantly improving fuel efficiency and gaining ground in the SUV market. As of August 2018, VW's sales were up 7% over the previous year. 

Domestic brands did not fare as well in this year's survey. US-based GMC and Chrysler had the largest drops in customer satisfaction year over year at 5% and 6% respectively. Ford and Chevy also suffered, falling 3% and 2% from 2017. Out of domestic mass-market brands, only Fiat Chrysler improved compared to last year, climbing 4%. 

Top Luxury Automakers

luxury vehicle list
In the luxury category, Volvo makes a strong comeback to tie Lexus for the #1 spot. (image: ACSI)

Volvo ties Lexus for the top spot in the luxury vehicle category but comes out the overall winner with the highest yearly improvement at 4%. The Swedish-Chinese company gets top ratings for the safety and comfort of its vehicles and just like Subaru, is rewarded with record-breaking sales in 2018. Lincoln lands third on the list and earns significantly better customer satisfaction ratings compared to its mass-market sibling, Ford. Among US automakers, Lincoln scores the top spot in customer satisfaction.

Nissan's Infiniti falls in last place among the list of luxury brands. Survey results show this is due to poor gas mileage in their vehicles and lackluster warranties compared to the other luxury brands. Despite an overall improvement in recall protocol among automakers, Mercedes-Benz saw a drop of 2% in customer satisfaction after being plagued with a series of recalls in 2018. Despite these exceptions, the luxury segment overall is showing strong growth in customer satisfaction thanks to improvements in driving performance, safety, reliability, and styling. 

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