Although customer satisfaction remained the same for the second quarter of this year — following two straight quarters of improvement — household spending should not weaken, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

The ACSI, which held steady at 73 (out of a possible 100), measured customer satisfaction levels this quarter in manufacturing durables (automobiles, personal computers, household appliances and consumer electronics) and e-business (Web portals, search engines and news sites).

Professor Claes Fornell, director of the University of Michigan Business School’s National Quality Research Centre, which compiles and analyses the quarterly ACSI data, says that an obvious relationship exists between spending and the resulting satisfaction of the spender.  It shows up, he says, in the correlation between the ACSI and government statistics on personal spending.

“Even though the ACSI is unchanged for this quarter, the historical relationship between spending and satisfaction would have suggested a higher level of spending than what was reported by the Commerce Department for the second quarter,” Fornell says.  “Barring extraordinary or unexpected events, it would therefore be reasonable to expect a modest rebound in consumer spending for the remainder of the year.”

In the current ACSI, scores for all four sectors in the manufacturing durables category remained the same: household appliances 82, consumer electronics 81, automobiles 80 and personal computers 71.

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For the third year in a row, the automobile industry matched its record-high score.  In fact, the industry average has always stayed within a three- point range, from 78 to 80.  BMW, Buick and Cadillac once again scored highest with a mark of 86, while several car brands, including Dodge, Ford, Chevrolet, Pontiac and Hyundai, registered the lowest scores, all at 78.

Mazda and DaimlerChrysler’s Jeep division showed the most improvement — 4 percent — with ACSI scores of 81 and 79, respectively.  In contrast, scores for Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai declined by the same percentage.

Fornell says that while the overall ACSI score for automobiles has not changed much over time, the difference between the highest-scoring and lowest- scoring automakers has shrunk from 18 points in 1994 to just eight points today.

“In other words, car manufacturers have not managed to increase their customers’ satisfaction, but the ACSI has not deteriorated, either,” he says. “The industry continues to score very well.  Today, all car manufacturers deliver high levels of customer satisfaction, but the difference between them is fading.”

Jack West, past president of the American Society for Quality, a co- sponsor of the ACSI, says that this holds true even when comparing domestic automakers with their international counterparts.

“When the ACSI started in 1994, the Japanese were well out in front with high quality and customer satisfaction scores, with European car companies right behind them,” he says.  “US auto manufacturers trailed both, but today they have pulled just about even with the Japanese, while the Europeans now have a narrow lead overall.”