Domestic car makers gained ground on their foreign competitors in customer satisfaction, but a considerable gap remains, according to an annual survey of US vehicle owners.

For the second consecutive year, Toyota Motor's Toyota brand led the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index with a record score of 87 on a scale of 100, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

The industry as a whole went up one point on the scale to an average of 81, setting a record since the survey began in 1995.

The increase by domestic manufacturers is good news because it shows they have narrowed the gap slightly on quality, Claes Fornell, a university professor who compiles the index, told AP.

"I think what we see here is a glimmer of hope," Fornell said. "If they can hold on to this and do more in this direction, the future may not be as bleak as a lot of people think."

Fornell reportedly said the mass market domestic brands such as Chevrolet and Ford still have a long way to go to catch up to Honda and Toyota.

Chevrolet scored an 81, a three-point improvement over last year, ranking it in the middle of the pack. Ford improved by two points on the scale to 77, but it still was tied for last with Jeep and Kia.

Some domestic brands performed well, including GM's Buick, which improved by two points to 86, tying it for second place with Honda and Lexus. Cadillac tied with Hyundai for sixth place, and Lincoln-Mercury finished eighth of the 21 brands included in the survey, AP said.

Buick's improvement came because of refined manufacturing processes that emphasise quality at every level, spokesman Dave Darovitz told the news agency.

"We are definitely going to head for the No. 1 spot, no doubt about it," he said.

Although it has high scores, Buick won't be much help to GM in the future because it appeals mainly to senior citizens, Fornell said.

But Darovitz told The Associated Press the average age of a Buick customer is now 65, down from the low 70s five years ago, and the company's new models should reduce that further.

In the survey, people who bought cars within the past three years were asked to rate their satisfaction level compared with their expectations. They also were asked to rate how their vehicle compares with the ideal vehicle.

The increased domestic brand scores also come at a time when US auto makers are trying to reduce incentives and drive up their average sales price, Fornell told AP.

Part of the reason the industry's score went up as a whole is that more people are leaving domestic manufacturers for foreign vehicles that better satisfy consumers, he said.

"As Detroit loses market share, the whole industry's satisfaction goes up a little bit," Fornell told AP. "That, of course, is good news for the industry, good news for the consumer, but not good news for Detroit."

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