Once renowned for its superior customer satisfaction experience, India's largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki India has plummeted to the bottom three companies with the worst customer sales satisfaction scores in 2019.
According to global automotive research firm JD Power, which carries out the Sales Satisfaction index (mass market) study annually, Maruti received a score of 834 on a scale of 1000 that puts it well behind the industry average score of 846 and ahead of only Honda (832) and Renault (824). The company with the best score of 873 was arch-rival Hyundai Motor India Ltd, India's second-largest carmaker.
This marks a steep climb-down for the company in the last 5 years. Only six years back in 2013, Maruti had held the top spot in the industry. Between 2009 and 2014, it was always among the top three in the industry and was on the pole position for two consecutive years in 2009 and 2010. Since 2015, the fall has been steep. It has scored lower than the industry average scores in each year after that including this year.
The study is based on responses from new car owners every year who judge respective brands on factors like dealership facility, delivery process, dealer sales consultant behaviour, paperwork completion, working out the deal and dealership website experience. It also includes the net promoter score that measures new-vehicle owner's likelihood to recommend their vehicle brand to others. JD Power surveyed 6,583 new-vehicle owners who purchased their vehicle between September 2018 and June 2019 for this year's study.
The fall in the company's ranking comes at a time when Maruti has been trying to refurbish its existing retail network. In 2015, it launched the Nexa branded outlets aimed at offering a more premium experience to its customers. In 2017, it also introduced the Arena line up of showrooms that were an upgraded form of its regular outlets. If JD Power is to be believed, these measures have had minimal impact. In a separate survey by JD Power--Customer Service Index released earlier this month that studies the experience of consumers in after sales and service areas, Maruti scored a low 799 out of 1000 points against the industry average of 826 that put it in the bottom quartile of the industry. Hyundai had scored the highest there as well.
"Generally JD Power's survey is reliable but the steep decline in Maruti's ranking is a bit perplexing," said an industry veteran. "Even if the results are a bit exaggerated, it is still clear that things are not as good as they used to be. Maybe a bit of complacency has crept in and Maruti has lost its focus in these areas."
The Sales Satisfaction Study also pointed to some strategic shifts in consumer behaviour for cars in India. It stated that buyers are now placing more emphasis (up 9 percentage points from 2018) on vehicle styling, both exterior and interior, when deciding on a model. Other aspects such as performance and reliability (both up 7 percentage points), as well as technology (up 5 percentage points), also play bigger roles in determining the choice of vehicle. On the other hand, aspects declining in importance are the price of the vehicle/instalments and the ability to obtain financing (both down 4 percentage points). Pricing of cars is something Maruti is particularly strong at.
Customers with a monthly household income exceeding Rs 75,000 account for 33 per cent of all buyers in 2019-a marked increase from 18 per cent in 2017. Consequently, customers are now able to cover the cost of a car with fewer months of income than before (15 months in 2019 vs. 18 months in 2017), the study says.
"The Indian car buyer of today is far more discerning than ever before," said Kaustav Roy, Director and Country Head for India, J.D. Power. "With clear expectations on vehicle design and features, today's buyer preferences are shifting from price consciousness to those that are driven by vehicle looks and content."
Some of the other findings of the study include the rising cost of prices, especially for small cars. Customers said prices have gone up over the past three years-5 per cent higher in 2019 than 2018 and 11 per cent higher than in 2017. This increase in the small car segment was 9 per cent higher than in 2017 and relatively less so in the SUV segment 3 per cent higher than in 2017. Customers also said dealers were at large less pushy than before (15 per cent in 2019 vs. 22 per cent in 2018), less dubious on promised prices (11 per cent vs. 17 per cent) and more straight forward on prices and discounts (14 per cent vs. 18 per cent). Delivery times for vehicles from the day of booking has also dropped from 12 to 10 days and customers by and large faced fewer problems with the condition of vehicles--unwashed, scratches and dents, missing features etc, being delivered (92 per cent vs. 83 per cent in 2018). such as unwashed vehicles, scratches and dents, missing features and more.