More than one quarter of the people who walked out of a new-vehicle dealership without buying said they did so mainly because they didn’t like the way the salesperson handled their business, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2003 Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) Study(SM) released this week.

“While satisfaction scores have improved overall, the study finds relatively little evidence that dealers as a whole have improved the actual processes with which they interact with customers,” said Chris Denove, partner at J.D. Power and Associates. “Dealers and manufacturers are sometimes under the false impression that customers are truly committed to a certain model. However, approximately one-half of the shoppers who leave a dealership because they didn’t like the way the dealer handled their business don’t make the effort to purchase from another dealer selling the same brand. Instead, they simply walk across the street to purchase an entirely different brand.”

The study finds that customer satisfaction with the new-vehicle sales process has improved slightly over 2002, primarily due to the expanded use of lower interest loans for longer terms and a significant decline in complaints about dealers’ lack of vehicle availability. Buyers who took out a traditional loan paid lower interest rates (averaging 4.8 percent in 2003 vs. 5.5 percent in 2002) and financed their vehicle for a longer term (58 months in 2003 vs. 55 months in 2002). As a result, the average monthly vehicle loan payment in 2003 is $427, down from $441 in 2002.

“On average, customers are facing a win-win situation when shopping for a new vehicle this year,” said Denove. “Buyers are less likely to have to compromise on options or color because dealers have more vehicles in stock. Financing options are better than ever, with nearly one in 10 loans paying zero-percent interest, and more than one-half paying a below-market interest rate subsidized by the manufacturer.”

Cadillac ranks highest in sales satisfaction in 2003, improving eight index points over 2002. Cadillac performs consistently well across all measures of satisfaction, which include the dealership facility, working with the salesperson, paperwork/financing process, delivery process and vehicle price.

The 2003 Sales Satisfaction Index Study is based on more than 40,000 responses from buyers and lessees of new 2002 and 2003 model cars and light trucks. The study was fielded in April and May of 2003.