Trends indicate increase in multi-car households and upward mobility

MUMBAI: The automobile market is looking up. A recent study conducted by NFO Automotive, Maruti models rank highest for Total Customer Satisfaction (TCS) in the small car petrol segments, while Honda leads the midsize and entry luxury vehicles.

In the highly competitive SUV segment, Mahindra Scorpio overtakes Toyota Qualis for Total Customer Satisfaction honors.

Analysis focused on the performance of over 40 models in the key areas of sales satisfaction, product quality vehicle performance and design, after-sales service, brand image, and cost-of-ownership. The automotive syndicated study was conducted in India with a total sample of 7,014 and the vehicle owners ranged from the new car buyers to three years of vehicle ownership.

The TCS study was conducted from July through October 2003 across 14 centers: Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Calcutta, Chandigarh, Chennai, Cochin, Coimbatore, Delhi (NCR), Hyderabad, Lucknow, Ludhiana, Mumbai, Pune and Surat.

Rankings for the TCS study are conducted at the vehicle segment level to provide comparisons among similar groups of vehicles. The models leading their respective segments on the TCS index score are Maruti 800 (entry compact segment); Maruti Wagon-R (premium compact segment); Tata Indica Diesel (diesel small car segment); Hyundai Accent Petrol (entry midsize segment); Honda City (midsize segment); Ford Ikon Diesel (diesel midsize car segment); Skoda Octavia (premium midsize segment); Honda Accord (entry luxury segment); and Mahindra Scorpio (SUV segment). The TCS index score provides a measure of commitment a given model or brand enjoys with its customers, says the release.

NFO Automotive gneral manager Rajeev Lochan was quoted in a company release as saying, "The industry average TCS score has improved by three index points from 2002. Our analysis reveals that manufacturers are meeting their customers' expectations in regards to product quality and vehicle performance, but fall short in the areas of after-sales service and cost of ownership."

The study finds that managing customer expectations become increasingly challenging as the length of vehicle ownership increases. Compared to an average TCS score of 88 for one to six months owners, the score for post-warranty customers drops by nine index points to 79.

"Honda and Maruti perform better than the industry in satisfying their customers throughout the ownership period with a relatively higher degree of consistency in both product quality and dealer service," comments Lochan. "It is not surprising to find that Honda and Maruti models enjoy a relatively stronger customer commitment among post-warranty owners who are closer to their next vehicle purchase."

The study revealed that new entrants in the marketplace have performed well in meeting customer expectations, especially Mahindra's Scorpio.

In addition to the customer evaluations on various aspects of their ownership experience, the TCS study also examines key trends in the industry. Some of the emerging trends are:

Increase in owners purchasing additional vehicles. Among owners who purchased a new car in 2003, over 30 per cent bought it in addition to another vehicle. This represents a 10-percentage point increase compared to 1999 and suggests that multi-car households are increasing.

There is a growing preference among current small-car owners for a four door sedan, with over 50 per cent indicating that they would purchase a sedan for their next vehicle. A majority of those preferring a sedan indicate a budget of Rs 45000 to 65000.

"Both these trends are indicative of an upward mobility and a shift in the market composition," observes Lochan. "While small cars would continue to dominate the Indian automotive market, we anticipate a faster growth in the lower-end of the midsize car segment provided manufacturers are able to offer models to meet the buyers' price expectations."

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