Buyers resent low inventories, prices over MSRP, study says

Alfa Romeo — yes, Alfa Romeo — tops J.D. Power sales satisfaction survey

Vehicle inventory low, vehicle transaction prices high, customers fretting … welcome, J.D. Power, to the era of supply and demand.

In a recently published survey from one of the auto industry’s top analytical firms, findings show that customers' satisfaction with vehicle purchases in the United States this year has dipped for the first time in 10 years.

The 2022 U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) Study found that overall sales satisfaction has dropped to 786 (on a 1,000-point scale) from 789 in 2021. In that year, higher than expected trade-in values softened the effect of new vehicle price increases. But in 2022, on top of trade-in prices shrinking, many dealers elected to charge more than the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price, a factor that did not sit well with buyers.

“When dealers charge more than MSRP, particularly with long-term loyal customers, they risk a potential long-term negative effect on customer advocacy and service business," said Chris Sutton, vice president of automotive retail at J.D. Power. Satisfaction among buyers who paid more than sticker price is 757, while satisfaction among those who paid the sticker price or less is 850, the Power report said.

The lack of dealership inventory was also a customer irritant, J.D. Power found, a point that automakers and their dealers may want to consider. Many have maintained, or considered maintaining, a smaller inventory in the wake of the pandemic, keeping costs down and driving more customers toward factory orders.

Regarding those consumers shopping for electric vehicles, the survey said that more than a third of them “failed to get instruction on EV charging before they left the dealership, which notably affects satisfaction.” Said Sutton, “Salespeople don’t need to show gas-powered vehicle buyers how to fill their tank, but they do need to show EV buyers how to charge their vehicle.”

There are positives to the Power conclusions, however, especially for Alfa Romeo dealers. The Italian brand ranked highest in customer satisfaction among premium brands with a score of 833, with Porsche a very close second (831) and Lexus (819) third. Alfa is on something of a roll these days, with its compact Tonale crossover due for release in the spring, and a new sports car in the works.

Meanwhile, in Power’s “mainstream brand”” segment, Buick ranked first with a score of 825, followed by Dodge (816) and Subaru (804), all performing higher than the industry average.

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