Customers give dealers an average rating of 8.5 out of a possible 10 in J.D. Power and Associate’s 2001 Sales Satisfaction Study.

New-vehicle buyers overall are very satisfied with their vehicle dealers, giving them an average rating of 8.5 out of a possible 10 in the J.D. Power and Associate’s 2001 Sales Satisfaction Study.

“Overwhelmingly, and contrary to popular belief, most buyers believe that their selling dealer is honest and courteous,” says Chris Denove, a partner at J.D. Power.

With Saturn and its non-negotiable retail pricing ranking first for the second year in a row, the findings of the study -- in its 15th year -- suggest that hard-sell tactics could backfire. More than one million shoppers each year decide not to buy a particular vehicle make simply because they didn't like the way they were treated by the dealer when they walked into the showroom, according to J.D. Power.

“With so many truly excellent vehicles to choose from, manufacturers need to make sure that their dealer's sales experience matches improvements in vehicle quality,” says Mr. Denove.

Although customer service is important, the biggest reason people choose one dealer over another is price. According to the study, one-half of all buyers say it is more important to find a dealer with low prices than one that provides friendly customer service.

The average customer spends nearly three hours at their selling dealer. The speed with which a customer is able to complete their transaction is directly linked to satisfaction. In particular, buyers are most frustrated with wasted time, such as waiting to enter the business office to finalize the paperwork.

“One of the surest ways for a dealer to improve its customer satisfaction is to minimize the number of employees a customer must work with to complete their transaction,” says Mr. Denove. “Turning a customer over from one salesman to another in an attempt to close the deal is definitely counterproductive.”

The study also suggests that local family operated dealerships will not give way to large nationally branded automobile chains in the near future. Though consumers believe that large national dealers may provide better pricing, most say they would rather buy their next vehicle from a dealership operated by a local businessperson.

Saturn leads the way in sales satisfaction over many luxury brands. Following Saturn in the ranking are Cadillac, Lexus, Infiniti and Jaguar.

“This makes it clear that the pricing model established by Saturn retailers works very effectively for its customers,” says Mr. Denove. “What makes Saturn's performance so exceptional is that it achieves this high level of sales satisfaction with non-luxury vehicles.

“Luxury dealers generate higher customer satisfaction scores because they provide an environment with less pressure and sell to more sophisticated customers who feel empowered when working with dealers," says Mr. Denove. “Saturn buyers, by comparison, tend to be less trustful of dealers, which makes their high satisfaction scores especially impressive.”

At the other end of the satisfaction spectrum, scoring at or below the industry average are Chrysler, Daewoo, Dodge, Honda, Hyundai, Isuzu, Jeep, Kia, Mazda, Mistubishi, Nissan, Subuaru, Suzuki, Toyota and Volkswagen.

The Sales Satisfaction Study is based on more than 46,000 responses from buyers and lessees of 2000 and 2001 model cars and light trucks. The study was conducted in April and May.