As China’s auto dealers have suffered from the economic slowdown, its car buyers feel that they’ve been suffering as well, according to a new survey by J.D. Power & Associates.
The newly released survey of customer satisfaction conducted between May 2015-February 2016 finds that the proportion of Chinese car buyers who thought the buying experience was better than expected decreased to 40 percent on this year’s survey. This marks a significant decrease from the 64 percent who said the same last year, showing a possible combination of rising customer standards and decreasing dealer service quality levels.
Among luxury auto brands, Chinese consumers continue to favor Audi, which saw the highest customer satisfaction rating for the fourth year in a row even as its sales growth lags behind rival Mercedes-Benz.
These numbers coincide with some recent rough times for China’s auto market. Around one-third of all dealers saw losses or broke even last year as China’s economic slowdown, stock market crash, and anti-corruption campaign hit sales. Auto dealers have been lodging complaints that carmakers have been forcing them to take too much inventory that they can’t sell. For example, in January 2015, BMW paid 5.1 billion yuan ($820 million) to China distributors after auto dealers complained that sales projections were unrealistic. In February last year, Toyota paid 1.24 billion yuan ($200 million) to distributors for the same reason.
But this year marks a rebound as automakers have been responding with new model launches and significant discounts, while the government has introduced tax breaks for some car buyers. Total China car sales growth reached a five-month high in May with a 9.8 percent increase. This improvement has reached luxury brands—BMW saw 7.5 percent China sales growth in May this year, while Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler continues to see a China surge with 39 percent growth for the month. Meanwhile, Audi saw 5.5 percent May China sales growth, with sales since January up 5.8 percent this year. If sales continue to rebound, it will be up to the dealers to make sure their service is up to par to meet Chinese consumers’ rising standards.