Ford Motor Company (F) & General Motors Company (GM) Still Have Time to Catch Japanese Automakers

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America’s two largest automakers are having a phenomenal year, reaping profits that haven’t been seen in over a decade. Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) and General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) both have vehicles, such as the Fusion and the Impala, that are competing in segments once completely dominated by Japanese rivals Toyota Motor Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:TM) and Honda Motor Co Ltd (ADR) (NYSE:HMC). Even with the drastic progress made, some analysts still see a speed bump that could derail Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) and General Motors Company (NYSE:GM)’s resurgence: consumer satisfaction. I’m not so sure, and here’s why.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index shows that overall the industry’s satisfaction level dropped 1.2% from last year, but is still up 5.1% since the base-line year, 1994.

Graph by author. Source: ACSI

The two top-rated spots in the index are luxury brands; the highest rated non-luxury brands listed are Honda Motor Co Ltd (ADR) (NYSE:HMC) and Toyota Motor Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:TM). The only non-luxury American brand above the industry average is GMC. Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) and Chrysler are on par with the industry average, while Chrysler’s other brands, Jeep and Dodge, are among the lowest scores.

Some analysts think that this will eventually lead to a speed bump for Detroit automakers that are currently enjoying a tremendous year in sales and profits.

In an interview with Automotive News, David VanAmburg, director of American Customer Satisfaction Index, had this to say:

Right now, in the U.S. automakers are churning out cars like crazy. There certainly is some risk there that, on the one hand, they could be stuck with a lot of inventory. On the other hand, even if they’re not, what is there to build future growth on? Really, the only thing to build future sales growth on is to do a better job of satisfying customers. You’ve got win over some of those purchasers of Asian brands and European brands.

I think VanAmburg is absolutely correct in the long-term outlook, but that shouldn’t scare current Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) and General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) investors. Let’s keep in perspective that working through pent-up demand will likely still take a few years, at least. Right now, the U.S. market just broke through a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 16 million vehicles for the month of August; that’s the first month to top that mark since November 2007. Here’s a look at the SAAR since 2012.

Graph by author. Source: Automotive News DataCenter.

Pent-up demand will eventually be worked through, then, as VanAmburg states, competition will increase and it could favor the Japanese yet again. But consider that even after the rise in annual sales the average age of vehicles has actually increased recently, from 11.3 years to 11.4 – an all-time high.

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