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Surprise for local car makers, as Subaru steams ahead

By: Gabriel Gutnik
26 August, 2010

Feature of the week: The latest customer survey of the Australian car industry, released this month, showed some surprising results: most remarkably in relation to the 'big two' local manufacturers.

The survey, conducted by social researchers Engaged Marketing, tallied a total of 1720 votes from new car owners by asking their opinions in an online opt-in survey, and asked them if based on their own experiences, would they recommend the brand to someone else in the market.

Only the nine brands with the biggest market shares were chosen to be part of the study, which covered the period between March and April 2010, and only brands with a sample of 100 or more surveyors were included.

Japanese car maker Subaru came out the clear victor at +35, however the surprise came from Australian makers Holden and Ford, both returning minus rankings of -3, and -13, respectively – saved from last place only by Mitsubishi.

What this means for customers is that based on their own experience, car buyers are twice more likely to recommend a Subaru purchase to a friend or colleague, over a Honda (+19), which came in second place, or eleven times more likely to give it the thumbs up over a brand new Hyundai (+11), which came in fifth.

The system used to calculate the final scores was the Net Promoter tool – which is used primarily to determine the loyalty of brand followers. A positive review, labelled a 'Promoter', is assigned a positive score – and a negative review, labelled a 'Detractor', gives the opposite. The final reviewed score for an item is determined by the sum of the two scores.

Customers were asked to give a ranking for their relevant brand, between 0 – 100 indicating that they were "highly unlikely" to recommend the brand based on their purchase, whilst a 10 indicated the opposite. A 0 – 6 marked a detractor score, whilst a 9-10 indicated a positive promoter score, and a 7 – 8 was regarded as a neutral review.

Whilst Subaru shone as the clear winners, what the survey has in fact highlighted is the lack of brand loyalty, or consistent buyer satisfaction, with locally produced vehicles.

Engaged Marketing chief executive Chris Roberts stated that "there has never been a more critical time to go back to basics, and focus on the customer."

This may be the case, as Holden customers settled the survey with a -3 score overall, based on 35 per cent of promoters scoring their satisfaction between a 9 – 10 out of 10, and 38 per cent giving the brand a 0 – 6 score. What this stands to show is that half of all buyers were not satisfied enough with the purchase to go on and share the news with someone they know.

The news for Ford was even worse, scoring four times lower than their historic rivals, which was worsened by the fact that it was ranked third in terms of April 2010 sales, more than doubling those made by Subaru. It seems that for the local manufacturers, in the eyes of their customers – big sales numbers are not carrying over into big smiles.

And at a time where buyers are being more frugal than ever, this might just be what is needed.

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