Because quality improvements in new vehicles are driving down the need for warranty repairs at car dealerships, a study by J.D. Power and Associates said, those dealers are re-evaluating the nature of their service departments.
J.D. Power's recently released 2003 Customer Service Index (CSI) study found the balance of work at new-vehicle dealerships is tilting more toward regular scheduled maintenance as opposed to repairs.
The Westlake Village-based global marketing information services firm said the mix of routine maintenance business has increased to 57 percent this year from 47 percent in 1999.
``Less warranty work means that auto makers are taking cost out of their products through quality improvement,'' said Joe Ivers, partner and executive director of quality/customer satisfaction at J.D. Power. ``To replace this declining revenue, dealers must now compete with other service providers, such as independent service facilities, for customer-paid service business, making them more accountable to their customers.''
The company reported that customer satisfaction with dealer service has improved industrywide by eight percentage points over 2002. However, it noted that sales increases over recent years among certain franchises-particularly among some European nameplates-have resulted in bottlenecks at service bays.
As growth in service capacity and accessibility has been outpaced by sales growth, some customers report frustration getting their vehicles into the dealership in a reasonable and convenient time, J.D. Power said.
Its 2003 study indicated significant improvements being made in this and other areas among both Audi and Mercedes-Benz franchises.
Mr. Ivers said car dealerships ``that now have more customers are being challenged to find ways to keep their customers flowing efficiently through their service bays. Efficiency problems can also have a negative effect on other unrelated aspects of the service experience, even with regard to a customer's critique of the vehicle itself.''
J.D. Power's CSI study focuses on experiences with the dealer service department during the first three years of vehicle ownership, which typically represents the majority of vehicle warranty periods. The 2003 study is based upon responses from nearly 106,000 new-vehicle owners and lessees.