MONEY customer satisfaction

Car Buyers Haven’t Been This Unhappy In A Decade

new york cars
Getty Images

More cars are selling, but the buyers aren't happy.

Even though car sales are up, reaching towards totals not seen since before the credit crisis, all of those new car owners aren’t exactly happy with their purchases.

Owner satisfaction stood at 79 out of 100 points, down 3.7% from last year and the lowest score in a decade. Of the 27 brands tracked American Customer Satisfaction Index Automobile Report, 15 saw their satisfaction rating go down this year, according to NBC News.

A major reason for the drop in customer happiness? Recalls. There were a record 64 million recalls in 2014, led by the huge recall scandal at General Motors. Prices are also up, making it more difficult to meet customer expectations.

Foreign cars did better than American cars, with 77 percent of car models that received above-average satisfaction ratings being imports.

TIME General Motors

You Could Soon Be Driving a Buick Made in China

The Buick emblem on the grill of a new c
JEFF HAYNES—AFP/Getty Images

It could spark a heated debate about American manufacturing

General Motors is expected to start exporting the Buick Envision from a Chinese plant to American dealerships by the end of 2016. If the move goes through, GM will become the first major car company to sell a vehicle in the U.S. that was made in China, USA Today reports.

GM makes the model in China because Chinese consumers like Buicks more than American consumers do, making that country the biggest market for Buick cars. The company likely won’t have enough sales in the U.S. to justify a second plant, so if they want to sell that model here, the most efficient and cost-effective way to do so would be to export it from China, the paper reports.

This move would be made in the midst of an already heated presidential campaign, and it would likely provoke conversation about declining American manufacturing as compared to rising Chinese manufacturing. We already know that current GOP frontrunner Donald Trump will have something to say about this.

USA Today reports that this is all just speculation. Nothing is definite as of yet, but IHS analysts are so confident that GM will go through with the export that they have already incorporated it into their official predictions for U.S. auto sales.

MONEY Autos

Buick’s New Encore Will Change Your Mind About Buick

The small SUV turns in a respectable performance.

Since its own corporate revival, GM has been working hard to reposition Buick as brand that we should take seriously. And not without reason: The company sells more than three times as many Buicks in China as it does here, so the badge is important globally. It’s just that car buyers here have long memories, and their memory of Buick is that it’s been all marketing and not very interesting metal.

Encore is one of the models out to reverse that notion, and it’s making headway. The small SUV’s sales were up 21% in May, making Encore Buick’s top model, accounting for 30% of sales. You can look at it as a gutsy decision, since Buick unleashed Encore into one of the most competitive segments of the auto markets. There’s Honda’s CR-V, Mazda’s CX-5, Ford’s Escape, Chevy’s own version, called Trax, and Nissan’s Rogue, to name a few.

Can Encore compete with this excellent group? In a word, yes. That is, it can compete but it can’t necessarily win. But that’s all right with Buick. It just wants a chance to be considered in such good company. And Encore has earned that right, courtesy of some nice styling. It’s a curvaceous little number with the classic Buick grill but frills such as blue halogen headlamps. Inside there’s a really great adjustable chair, the better to enjoy a ride that you have to admit is smoother and quieter than you’d thought it would be. One reason: The Encore has an active noise cancellation system. Our test model, a front-wheel drive Premium Group number, ($31,755; entry level models start at about $24,000) came with a good collection of safety systems: forward collision alert, lane departure warning, blind spot and rear cross traffic alert. The navigation system, though, was annoying, and the middle console, a jumble of buttons that were less than helpful. Intuitive, it’s not. There’s also an 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot available.

Where Encore comes up a little short is under the hood. It’s powered by a turbo-charged, Ecotec 1.4-liter engine. While that sounds like it has some oomph, it’s so wimpy at 138 horsepower that Buick doesn’t even bother to list it on the dealer’s invoice. Can’t say I blame them. You can measure the acceleration on this thing with a calendar, although it does get a thrifty 28 miles per gallon combined mileage, which is one of the only benefits of the smaller engine. To be fair, Encore is really designed to be a city/suburban getabout. And by that measure, it gets about its business fairly well.

You Might Also Like:

Behind the Wheel of the New Chrysler 200

New Subaru Outback Rides Smooth in Rough Conditions

Honda’s Adorable Little SUV Is This Summer’s Hottest New Car

MONEY Autos

This Company Just Overtook Toyota to Become the World’s Top Automaker

2015 Volkswagen Jetta
courtesy Volkswagen 2015 Volkswagen Jetta

The world really likes German engineering.

During the first six months of 2015, Toyota sold 5.02 million cars. That represents a decline of 1.5% compared to the first half of 2014. More importantly in terms of bragging rights for automakers, Toyota’s total was slightly less than German rival Volkswagen, which sold 5.04 million vehicles from January through June of 2015.

Toyota has traditionally held the top spot in terms of global auto sales, though there have been flukey years like 2011, when natural disasters in Asia pushed the automaker to third place worldwide. Volkswagen, which sold just 6.2 million cars for all of 2007, has established a goal of selling 10+ million vehicles per year by 2018, if not sooner. The automaker came close in 2013, selling 9.73 million passenger cars and superseding General Motors as the world’s #2 automaker in the process.

Volkswagen just barely crossed the 10 million sales mark in 2014, and it is on pace to do so again in 2015, perhaps while taking the overall global sales crown as well. To do so, Volkswagen, which owns Audi and Porsche in addition to its flagship mid-market brand, must continue to post big sales in China—which won’t be an easy task.

“VW is snatching the sales crown in difficult times with major car markets in decline,” Stefan Bratzel, head of Germany’s Center of Automotive Management, said to the BBC. “They will need to withstand the slowdown in China if they want to keep the top spot.”

Toyota has struggled in China and wants to improve sales there. But overall, the Japanese automaker has stressed for quite some time that it’s not particularly worried about holding the global top spot for sales. “Their focus is not No. 1,” Peggy Furusaka, a Tokyo- based auto-credit analyst at Moody’s Investors Service, observed in January. “Toyota is more concerned about keeping profitability than chasing numbers. So for coming years, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Toyota selling fewer cars than Volkswagen.”

MONEY Autos

The Ford F-150 Is Getting Clobbered This Year

2015 Chevrolet Silverado LTZ Z71
courtesy GM 2015 Chevrolet Silverado LTZ Z71

GM's big pickups gained a lot of ground on Ford in the first half of 2015.

The first half of 2015 is in the books, and two big numbers stand out in the sea of auto-sales results released this past week:

  • Chevrolet Silverado sales: Up 14.6%
  • Ford F-Series sales: Down 2.4%

Fold in the Silverado’s upscale twin, the GMC Sierra, and General Motors GENERAL MOTORS COMPANY GM -2.72% sold more full-size pickups in the first half of 2015 than mighty Ford FORD MOTOR COMPANY F -0.58% .

The F-Series still outsold the Silverado, and it’s still “America’s best-selling” truck line. But while Ford has been touting its all-new aluminum F-150, GM has been scooping up sales, market share, and profits.

What’s the story?

Ford hasn’t had enough F-150s to go around…
It’s not that the F-150 is a bad truck. In fact, reviewers say it’s a very good truck, and it has been selling very quickly.

The problem is that Ford hasn’t been able to make enough of them — yet.

Ford makes the F-150 in two factories. Normally, it takes just a few weeks to change over a factory’s assembly line to the tooling needed to make a new model. But, as I’m sure you’ve heard by now, the new-for-2015 F-150 has aluminum body panels, not steel like the old truck.

Ford’s two factories needed extensive changes to make the new truck, because aluminum requires different tooling and processes than steel. Each of Ford’s two factories — which normally run almost around the clock — were down for about 12 weeks in total.

That cost Ford a lot of trucks. At the start of this process last year, Ford North America chief Joe Hinrichs estimated the company would lose 90,000 units of production, or about six to seven weeks’ worth of sales.

Both factories are now back up and running at full speed. But supplies of the new F-150 have been tight for months. As a result, Ford has given first priority to its most profitable customers: retail buyers seeking loaded trucks.

Normally, commercial fleet buyers account for a significant portion of Ford’s (and GM’s) full-size pickup sales. But until recently, Ford was holding off on sending the new trucks to its commercial fleet customers. “Fleet sales” get a bad rap from investors, but commercial fleet sales are good profitable business.

They’re not as profitable as sales of loaded luxury trucks to retail buyers, though. That’s why Ford steered its early production to its dealers.

It was a smart move. But it gave GM a big opportunity, and GM doesn’t miss many opportunities nowadays.

…which gave GM an opportunity to grab some business
GM doesn’t break down its fleet sales by model. (Neither does Ford.) But like Ford, it does tell us what percentage of its total U.S. sales were to fleet customers every month, and it gives us some deeper details from time to time.

Here are two telling details General Motors shared this past week: GM’s deliveries to commercial-fleet customers were up 20% in the first half of 2015, and its deliveries of full-size pickups to government-fleet customers “more than doubled” last month versus a year ago.

“Commercial-fleet sales” doesn’t just mean pickups. But a lot of pickups are sold to commercial buyers: think contractors, mining companies, oil-field services companies, even cable companies. They all buy a lot of pickups, and most of those trucks come from GM or Ford. (Fiat Chrysler isn’t a big player in this market, although it would like to change that.)

The upshot: Both Ford and GM played their hands well, but now the game changes
Here’s the long story short: Ford couldn’t make enough of its new trucks to go around. So it put some of its business up for grabs — and GM moved right in to grab it.

But the game could look a lot different in the second half of 2015. Ford’s factories are back up to speed, and the company should have full inventories of its new trucks soon, likely within a few weeks.

At that point, Ford’s new-for-2015 F-150 will finally be able to go head-to-head with GM’s new-for-2014 Silverado and Sierra. What happens then? We’ll find out in a few months.

John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors.

More From Motley Fool:

TIME

See Chevy’s New, More Fuel-efficient Cruze

2016 Chevrolet Cruze front 7/8
The 2016 Chevrolet Cruze – a larger, lighter, more efficient and more sophisticated evolution of the brand’s best-selling global car. The 2016 Chevrolet Cruze.

It's a leaner, meaner, greener machine

General Motors has announced the latest generation of its best-selling Chevrolet Cruze — and it’s larger, lighter, faster, and more fuel-efficient.

After issuing a press release entirely in emoji, details on the 2016 Chevy Cruze were revealed in a slightly more legible statement by the company. The new compact car will be 250 pounds lighter despite being three inches longer. It will do 40 miles per gallon on the highway, and launches with the automaker’s established 4G LTE wifi hotspot, and built-in Apple Carplay and Android Auto.

The Cruze has become Chevrolet’s best-selling car, with 3.5 million sold around the world since 2008. However, sales of the Cruze are lagging behind Toyota’s Corolla and Honda’s Civic in the US market, placing behind both last year, according to numbers from MotorTrend. GM has estimated that the latest Cruze will generate $1,500 more profit per car than the old model, according to Reuters, and will hopefully bring newer drivers into the Chevy fold.

The price of the 2016 Chevy wasn’t released. It will go on sale early next, with its diesel model following in 2017.

TIME Autos

Chevy Publishes Press Release Entirely in Emoji

General Motors Recall Widens As CEO Barra Testifies To Lawamkers In DC
Joshua Lott—Getty Images A man walks past a Chevrolet Cruze Eco displayed at the General Motors headquarters April 1, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan.

We think it says "drink your Ovaltine"

Well, this is where we are, world: General Motors, one of the biggest companies in the world, has published a press release in emoji. Entirely in emoji.

Honestly, the release is pretty difficult to decipher. We know it’s about the 2016 Chevy Cruze, a compact car GM’s been making since 2008.

Outside of that — maybe some of the kids reading this will be able to do a better job decoding the message, but it does seem that GM wants you to know the new Cruze is 100% awesome, that it will work well with your smartphone, and that you will love it. It also seems to say that you’ll be better at sports if you buy the car, but that may be a bad interpretation.

If you want to try your hand at reading these millennial hieroglyphs, check out the release. Or, wait for GM to post the translation at 2 p.m. ET Tuesday.

TIME Executives

These Are the Top 5 Female CEOs, According to Their Employees

GERMANY-GM-OPEL
Daniel Roland—AFP/Getty Images Mary Barra, a new CEO of U.S. carmaker General Motors GM addresses the media during a news conference at the headquarters of the company's German subsidiary Opel in Ruesselsheim, on January 27, 2014.

A new annual ranking is out

This week, Glassdoor.com — a site popular for people searching for jobs, who can get the inside scoop from anonymous reviews from former and current employees — posted its annual list of the CEOs most popular with their employees.

The company also broke out a list of the five top rated woman CEOs. They are, as follows:

  1. Mary Barra, General Motors (86% approval)
  2. Pam Nicholson, Enterprise Rent-A-Car (84% approval)
  3. Kay Krill, Ann Taylor (84% approval)
  4. Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed Martin (83% approval)
  5. Sharen Turney, Victoria’s Secret Stores (83% approval)

It should come as no surprise that Barra tops this list. She’s earned praise from all angles for her handling of GM’s ignition switch recall crisis. Barra is a GM lifer who has respect throughout the organization.

TIME Transportation

General Motors Says 100 People Have Now Died from Faulty Ignition Switches

Faulty Ignition Switch Repair At A General Motors Dealership
Jeff Kowalsky—Bloomberg/Getty Images Shop foreman John Chapman performs a service recall on a General Motors Co. (GM) 2005 Saturn Ion at Liberty Chevrolet in New Hudson, Michigan, U.S., on Friday, April 25, 2014.

The malfunctioning switches have prompted the recalls of millions of GM vehicles

The death toll from faulty ignition switches in General Motors’ vehicles officially reached 100 this week, putting a grim tally on the long-running saga of the company’s delayed recalls.

The automotive firm’s compensation fund said it had approved the 100th compensation claim resulting from the issue on Monday, the New York Times reported.

This number, according to the Times, is significantly higher than the 13 deaths that GM claimed were the only ones from malfunctioning ignitions on multiple models.

Several lawsuits against the company allege that the actual death toll far exceeds even the latest number, and accuse the company of downplaying the number of deaths in multiple congressional hearings.

“The success of the cover-up for over a decade leaves most of the victims unaccounted for,” Robert Hilliard, one of the lead lawyers, told the Times. “One hundred is not even the tip of the iceberg.”

Read more at the Times

TIME Autos

You’ll Never Believe Who Makes This Gorgeous New Car

It drives itself, obviously

In a Fountain Valley, Calif., workshop thousands of miles away from General Motors’ headquarters in Detroit, dozens of designers, engineers and craftsmen have been toiling for months. Their project offers a glimpse of the way we may be driving 15 years from now. The hangar-like workspace belongs to GFMI Metalcrafters, a company that for decades has built many of the most important concept cars. Laboring in its password-protected workrooms, these teams have been assembling a car so far ahead of its time, some of the technologies and materials it requires don’t exist yet.

The result, dubbed the FNR, is arguably Chevy’s most unusual concept car to date. The FNR is a fully autonomous electric vehicle. It’s a family sedan and infotainment hub. It’s aimed squarely at the young, consumers who characteristically respond better to smartphones than sheet metal. Chevy first unveiled the FNR (it stands for “Find New Roads,” the brand’s tagline) at the 2015 Shanghai motor show, and says it plans to bring it to the U.S. later this year.

Chevy hopes that the FNR will hook millennials, not just in China but worldwide, with the promise of a vehicle that will be part Siri, part Fitbit. “Everywhere in the world our time is constrained—commute time, work time, family time,” says Sharon Nishi, head of sales and marketing for GM China. “Those are some of the things that inspired this car.” And in a departure from current trends in autonomous-vehicle development, Chevy envisions the FNR as a vehicle for the mass market. GM projects that by 2030—the hypothetical model year for the FNR—self-driving technologies will be prolific enough to have become less costly, and therefore feasible for a real-world family car. And executives think autonomous vehicles have a particularly good chance of proliferating in developing countries like China, where cities and roads are crowding quickly, governments are anxious to resolve congestion, and much infrastructure is yet to be built.

Like many of GM’s most famous concept cars, the FNR helps us glimpse possible technologies of tomorrow. Motors housed in the rims of its massive, hubless wheels will power the car. Double scissor doors open on each side like lotus blossoms. Webbed seats can read everything from heart rate and blood pressure to mood—and adjust temperature, speed, lighting and even musical selections for those who want to work or sleep. Care to swap out the map projected on the oversized canopy to work on some spreadsheets? Simply swipe your hand over the gesture-controlled crystal ball in the center console to reconfigure the display. Of course, that’s assuming you’re in the car at all. The FNR could “run errands for you while you’re at work, or take itself to the dealer for service so you don’t have to,” says Mark Reuss, GM executive vice president of global product development.

There’s much work to be done before cars come anywhere close to fulfilling the FNR’s fully autonomous promise. Like other manufacturers and suppliers, GM has gradually loaded more vehicles with active-safety technologies that are precursors to a car that could pilot itself–night vision, blind-spot alerts, lane-change warnings, adaptive cruise control, brake assist. Next year, GM will be the first automaker to bring vehicle-to-vehicle communication—cars “talking” to one another to help them avoid collisions—to market in a 2017 Cadillac CTS. “It’s a step-by-step progression—some of the things we introduced in 2010 and 2011 are now trickling down into our production cars,” says John Capp, GM’s global director of safety strategies and vehicle programs.

Other, more luxury-oriented companies, including Audi and Mercedes-Benz, are closer to putting autonomous vehicles on the road. But GM executives say that by 2030, that may not matter. “How will the consumer interface with and experience all this technology—will it really help, or will it become a secondary burden?” asks Bryan Nesbitt, GM China vice president of design. The automakers that integrate the tech most successfully, Nesbitt says, will come out ahead.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com