March 15, 2012

Lexus, Mini top J.D. Power Customer Service Index Study
Dealer service departments leave a better impression with customers than their non-dealer rivals, and Lexus and Mini continue to do that best, according to a new J.D. Power and Associates study. "Steady improvements in vehicle quality, longer intervals between recommended service visits, and a higher mix of maintenance service events have had a positive effect on overall dealer service satisfaction," Chris Sutton, senior director at J.D. Power and Associates, said Wednesday in a statement. "Moreover, manufacturers and their dealers have instituted broad-based customer service improvement initiatives to increase satisfaction with both the purchase experience and after-sales service." According to Automotive News, in J.D. Power's annual U.S. Customer Service Index study, dealer service departments averaged 787 points on a 1,000-point scale, up 19 points from a year ago. Non-dealer facilities averaged 749 points. Five factors are measured to determine satisfaction with dealer service: service quality, service initiation, service adviser, service facility, and vehicle pickup. Lexus ranked highest in customer satisfaction with dealer service among luxury brands for the fourth straight year with 861 points. Rounding out the top five are Cadillac (852), Jaguar (849), Acura (838), and Porsche (836). Click here to read coverage of the brands that logged the highest service center satisfaction.

Toyota Dominates Vincentric's Value Rankings
Vincentric released its eighth annual Best Value in America awards Wednesday, and leading the list of winners was Toyota, whose brands combined to take home 13 awards. According to Auto Remarketing, the Toyota division was named the best value for passenger car brands, and the automaker’s three divisions were represented in 12 of the 39 individual vehicle awards. The luxury brand winner was Volvo, and the truck brand winner was Chevrolet. Looking at the individual vehicle awards in more detail, Hyundai and Kia combined to take six segments, while General Motors and Volvo each had five winners. BMW and Mini combined for two winners, as did Nissan and Infiniti. Seven other automakers grabbed one award each. “Our awards take into account all costs involved with owning a vehicle, which enables consumers to understand automotive value and measure the impact that owning a specific vehicle will have on their financial situation," said David Wurster, president of Vincentric. Click here for the full report from Vincentric. Calculations were done for each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. Vincentric employed various annual mileage intervals and insurance profiles in compiling its data. For coverage of Vincentric’s latest value rankings, click here.

FTC Forces Auto Dealers to Stop Promising to Pay Off Loans on Trade-Ins
In a first-of-its-kind case, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) targeted five car dealers in four states that regulators say deceived consumers by promising to pay off their loans, no matter what was owed on the cars. The balance, the FTC said, was usually rolled right into the new car loan. Settlements agreed to by the dealers would require them to stop running the ads on their websites and other sites such as YouTube. According to The Detroit free Press, the settlements remain subject to a final vote by the commission after a 30-day public comment period. The FTC has brought cases against auto dealers before, but not for this kind of advertising. "Buying a new car or truck is a major financial commitment, and the last thing consumers need is to be tricked into thinking that a dealer will pay off what they owe on their current vehicle, when they really won't," said David Vladeck, head of the commission's consumer protection bureau. As part of the proposed settlements, the dealers would be barred from future deceptive ads. They also would not be allowed to misrepresent any other facts in the leasing and financing of a car. For more on the FTC’s decision to target dealer advertising practices, click here.

Experts Pick Most Beautiful, Sexiest Cars
One of the biggest put-downs in the auto industry is calling a vehicle an appliance. You hear it when automakers talk privately with their competitors, and it's popular with auto critics. The thinking is that no one wants to be seen about town in a vehicle with all the pizzazz of a washing machine or toaster. With that in mind, The Detroit News put its question to the editors at automotive information company Edmunds.com and other experts: What do they think are the sexiest, most beautiful autos ever built? Car collector Peter Mullin, founder of the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, Calif., immediately named the 1938 Talbot Lago T150 SS from France as the most beautiful car ever. Leslie Kendall, curator of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, points to the 1947 Cisitalia from Italy as one of the most beautiful ever built and the top pick in the Petersen collection. Edmunds.com editor-in-chief Scott Oldham called the 1974 Lamborghini Countach LP400 from Italy, "the most visually provocative car of all time." Oldham's No. 3 pick for most beautiful is the 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, which he describes as “voluptuous and brilliant.” For more on the sexiest cars of all time – selected by several leading auto critics and experts – click here.

Volkswagen Boldly Enters Crossover SUV Market
Remember how Volkswagen rocketed back into the national consciousness a year or so ago with an ultra-cheap edition of the Jetta, a spacious, comfortable new Passat, and a viral video hit with its “The Force” Superbowl commercial featuring a pint-sized Darth Vader? The company aims to keep that momentum rolling along when it targets the next largest-selling class of cars: compact SUVs. Having already reentered the discussion in the compact and mid-sized sedan markets, compact crossover SUVs will be Volkwagen’s next target. MSNBC reports that it got a preview of its next-generation contender in that market with the unveiling at the Geneva Motor Show of the Cross Coupe, which could replace today’s Tiguan compact SUV. “The next obvious opportunity is the SUV segment that the Tiguan participates in,” said Volkwagen Group of America president and CEO Jonathan Browning. “The Tiguan can definitely grow further.” How will it do that? “Look at the Cross Coupe,” Browning said. The concept has a stretched hood and a lowered roofline that is a bit reminiscent of the Range Rover Evoque that has wowed shoppers recently.Click here for a picture. For more on VW’s foray into the compact SUV segment, click here.

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Spy Shots: 2014 Subaru Forester [MotorAuthority]
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Juniper Research: Nearly 100 Million Connected Cars by 2016 [CNET]
Infiniti's FX Sebastian Vettel Version [Autoblog]

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