LITTLE DOWN, NOT OUT: Lexus may have lost its top spot in the UK but it continues to score well in both the UK and SA.

IT HAS become a rather contentious topic - the car-buying and servicing experiences, both of which are an integral part of the overall ownership experience. In recent years we have seen manufacturers such as Lexus and Chevrolet, particularly in a South African context, coming out trumps in the Ipsos (previously Synovate) quality awards. In order to ascertain whether there is any correlation or indeed discrepancy, we decided to pit the results of the local Ipsos awards to those of the internationally acclaimed JD Power's owner's survey, as published by the UK's What Car? magazine's July edition.

In the case of the South African customer experience results - a good barometer for overall ownership experience- Chevrolet (88%) is on top of the pile followed closely by Lexus (87,9%), Volkswagen (87,6%), Opel (87,5%), Audi (87,2%), Mitsubishi (86,5%), Mercedes-Benz (85,9%), Toyota (85,2%), Nissan (83,6%) and Mazda (81,9). The UK survey's results had Jaguar (82,8%) - the first time that the marque has come out on top - deposing Lexus (80,1%) from its 11-year reign. The Japanese luxury manufacturer now occupies second place jointly with Skoda - a Volkswagen subsidiary brand not offered in SA. These are followed by Honda (79,7%); Mercedes-Benz (79,3%), Toyota (79,3%), Audi (78,6%), Volkswagen (78,1%) and Volvo (77,9%) with BMW and Nissan joint ninth (77,8%).

In the case of the worst performers, it is surprising to see that Chevrolet is rated the lowest in the UK survey, due to there being only one model from the stable in the form of the Matiz (Spark Lite). General Motors' Vauxhall brand, which is Opel in our market, had models such as the Meriva lifting the brand from the doldrums. Interestingly, Lexus still manages to rank highly in both the purchasing and service experience fronts.

The Volkswagen brand in general and Audi in particular seem to fare well in the South African service experience ratings.

According to the 2012 JD Power Owner's survey, Jaguar's success this year can be attributed to its clients heaping praise on the dealer networks' well kept and comfortable waiting areas, with XF drivers in particular most impressed with service levels.

However, the survey does mention that Jaguar may want to look at ways to reduce its costs. As you will read on page 5, we also delve into service labour rates in SA, which have increased over the last year, more so than the industry average in some cases.

"There is much to be said of the effort that manufacturers and dealerships have put in over the last year to improve their customers' experience," says Richard Rice, head of loyalty research at Ipsos SA.

"There have been significant advances in technology, facilities, systems and financing processes. All of these factors play a big role in the overall customer experience, as well as the product itself, of course. However, given the complexity of the human interaction during the sales and service transactions, the brands that have focused on the more 'personal' elements are the ones that have done particularly well."

The fact that motorplans and service plans alike are factored into a vehicle's purchase price locally in most instances, could be one of the factors in the variations arising out of the UK survey where, up to this juncture, these have been an optional cost to the customer. Unfortunately there are some manufacturers who are omitted from the South African survey simply because where JD Power interviews customers of every brand, Ispos only interviews the customers of brands that subscribe, so the comparison is skewed. Honda, for instance, has always had a sterling track record in the JD Power Owner's survey, particularly with the Jazz that has seen it retain top position for nine consecutive years.

Kia and Hyundai do not participate in the Ipsos survey even though, according to RGT Smart, which provides a monthly detailed summary of the industry's total vehicle sales report, the Korean manufacturers have contributed 3,5% and 2,9% respectively to the 11,8% vehicle market growth in 2012 compared to the first six months of 2011.

In light of the above, should the Koreans once again take part in the survey, I have a distinct feeling that the results could see them rank in the top five manufacturers, if not the top three, such are the significant inroads made by the respective manufacturers.

Given the fact that all manufacturers currently do business under very arduous conditions, the results indicate a fairly similar trend in both the South African and UK markets.

Overall it is safe to say that Lexus and Volkswagen seem to show strong consistency in both surveys, which indicates a high level of uniformity within the two companies that has placed them in good stead.

Nissan and Mercedes-Benz have also proven to be steady in both surveys managing to remain in the top 10 categories.

When all is said and done, it would be in the best interest of the consumer to see more manufacturers taking part in the local survey, which will bode well in turn for the manufacturers, which could very well see loyal second-and even third-time buyers staying within their brand.