Are American customers starting to be less satisfied with their car purchases?

The Benchmarks by Industry study done by the American Customer Satisfaction Index shows a 1.2 percent customer satisfaction drop overall within the automotive industry for 2013.

Overall, the automotive industry stands at 83 for 2013, as opposed to 84 in 2012; scores are based on a scale of o to 100.

Looking deeper into the numbers tells another story: customer satisfaction (CS) looks to be fairly stable, even improving slowly. CS has stayed between 82 and 84 since 2007, and has gone up from a 79 rating when the study first started in 1994.

Many would argue that this year’s slight drop could easily be due to a shifting perception by customers, who’s needs have been catered to at higher levels in the last five years and have now gotten to expect a level of service that was a happy surprise for them a few years ago.

Authors of the study said to Automotive News the slight drop in satisfaction may be linked to previous improvements in customer satisfaction with the auto industry.

“Higher levels of customer satisfaction create greater customer expectations that automakers are then challenged to meet — let alone exceed,” the authors said today in releasing the report.

While the slight drop in satisfaction isn’t “cataclysmic” for manufacturers, companies should still take note and be wary of waning pent-up demand and excess production,” said David VanAmburg, director of ACSI.

Looking at the chart, one can see that European manufacturers ranked first with a satisfaction score of 84.7, followed by Asian automakers with a score of 84.1, and a score of 82 for U.S. companies.

Mercedes-Benz is topping the chart this year at 88, and has managed to stay in the 80’s since the study’s inception. Lexus is not far behind in second place at 87 and both Honda and Toyota follow suit at 86.

Interestingly, Cadillac, now sixth with an 85 rating, has been rated in the mid to high 80’s consistently over the years of the study, culminating with a 89 in 2009; Lexus and Lincoln are the only two others to have ever reached a score of 89.

There is no way to pinpoint in the study the effect of hybrid cars offered or how eco-friendly vehicles are impacting this score. One thing that does stand out is that Ford is right on the average at 83 and has been at or close to the average since 2009, which corresponds to when the company changed its philosophy and had re-engineered itself; it had been ranked significantly under the average most years before 2008.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index’ Benchmarks by Industry 2013 edition of the study is based on phone and e-mail interviews with 4,078 recent customers randomly picked between April 6 and May 22.