Consumer satisfaction with initial automotive financing increased 2% this year in large part due to consumer perceptions that they received a "fair deal," according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2002 consumer financing satisfaction study released today.

Satisfaction increased year-over-year for loan and lease consumers across all provider segments -- captive finance providers, banks, credit unions and independent finance companies.

Overall consumer satisfaction is measured in four areas: how well a loan or lease is set up; the person who handles the finance processing and the environment in which that takes place; timeliness and accuracy of billing; and the perception of receiving a "fair deal."

The study this year separates luxury vehicle consumers from non-luxury vehicle consumers.

The study finds that luxury loan and lease consumers are much more satisfied than non-luxury loan/lease consumers with their finance providers. Luxury loan and lease customers are more satisfied with the finance set-up process, the finance and insurance manager and environment, billing and the fairness of the deal that they receive.

The study finds that lease customers -- both luxury and non-luxury -- are less satisfied than loan customers.

Lessors have absorbed substantial losses on their off-lease vehicles which has led to a number of banks and independent finance companies to leave the auto lease market. The firms that have remained in the leasing market are generally pricing the vehicle residuals substantially lower than they did in the past, which usually increases the monthly lease payments and makes leases less attractive to consumers.

Among financial providers, Ford Credit ranks highest in initial lease satisfaction in both the luxury and non-luxury segments. USAA Federal Savings Bank ranks highest in initial loan satisfaction in the non-luxury segment, while Infiniti Financial Services ranks highest in initial loan satisfaction in the luxury segment.

Consumers give Ford Credit particularly high marks for its billing process in the non-luxury lease segment. In the luxury lease segment, Ford Credit performs well in the lease set-up process, the set-up person and environment, and the perception of getting a "fair deal."

USAA receives high marks across all four factors in the initial loan non-luxury segment, while Infiniti Financial Services receives high marks for its loan set-up process and perceptions of getting a "fair deal" in the initial loan luxury segment.

The study is based on 39,315 responses from consumers who purchased or leased a new vehicle in 2002.