Sentiment of the Week: Distrust in the Automobile Industry

By: Dheepan Ramanan

March 19, 2015

CEM Programs
Customer Engagement
customer experience management
Sentiment Analysis

Not many shopping experiences have changed through the advent of the age of the customer as much as buying a new or used car. Potential customers of yesteryear stepped into dealerships without knowing the Kelly Blue Book value or the prices and features of competitors. Today, multiple auto websites aggregate reviews, provide used prices, and even tell you about the size of the cup holders before you so much as step onto the lot. However, these reviews are still primarily product-focused, centering on the quality of the automobile. In this week’s Sentiment of the Week, not only will we examine 8 top car brands for product information, but we’ll take a look at sentiment on dealership and service experience.


Hyundai was the most positive overall brand by sentiment, with 35% of all customers possessing a positive sentiment of the car company; Ford was the lowest-ranked, with a slightly negative sentiment. Overall, though, car brands show higher than average sentiment when compared to corporate brands on sentiment (which have a -.25 average).  Mazda, fresh off a record-setting year in 2014, had the second-highest sentiment. Dodge, a key part of the Chrysler group, also had a strongly positive showing with a .26 sentiment. The overall performance metrics might paint a worrying picture for Toyota, whose image has been recently tarnished by high-profile recalls.

The Hyundai Sonata was the most popular car model overall by sentiment, and possessed a sizable chunk of Hyundai’s overall car comments (36%). The Ford Fiesta and Veloster, both sporty subcompacts, had the second and third highest sentiment scores, but relatively low shares of their respective brands’ volumes.

Madza and Hyundai tie for the best-rated car in category with two apiece. Interestingly, the Nissan Titan was the best-rated truck by sentiment, ahead of the legendary Ford F-150. All of these vehicles as a group were more highly rated on overall quality, price, and fuel efficiency than their comparable competition.

The Other Half (or 49.8%)


Although product quality is very important and essential to the car buying process, in analyzing Facebook comments it is apparent that taking only those figures into account diminishes a great deal of the customer experience. About 50.2% of customer comments concerned car performance attributes, components such as gas mileage, overall quality, warranty information, and more. The rest of the comments were about everything else that pertained to overall corporate experience, from things like financing, marketing, to the sale process and getting the car serviced. Ultimately, customer perception of a brand like Toyota is not comprised merely of the lack of cabin noise in the Camry, but from from the service experience at the local dealer.

Marketing is the most common theme mentioned in non-product related comments. This is no surprise, as car companies devote huge sums to promoting their brands. In this area, Dodge performs the highest in overall sentiment which should be more good news for Chrysler. Nissan is second with a slightly less positive sentiment.


More critically, it seems that auto dealerships offer very poor experiences in terms of the service process, and employee performance. What is very worrisome about the very low scores overall for service staff and sales staff is how these aspects of the customer experience strongly influence overall perception of brand performance. In our online shopping analysis, we saw that high-performing employee service corresponded with much higher overall brand sentiment for department stores. Echoing these results, the top three brands by overall sentiment – Hyundai, Mazda, and Dodge – also possess by far the highest sentiment overall for employee sentiment. As a result, employee performance is a weakness for 5 out of the 8 brands studied. This could be a major opportunity for a brand like Tesla, whose non-dealership model allows for holistic control of the buying experience.

There’s an opportunity here for the industry at large, as well. Car brands, it seems, need to do a better job of maintaining the momentum created by their advertising, extending the brand message through the dealership. High sentiment scores surrounding marketing and the product itself are encouraging, and constitute a large portion of the battle. However, the prevailing dissatisfaction with the automotive sales process in general portrays an inconsistent CX, albeit one that should be eminently fixable. The challenge, then, is for car companies to get customers to like their people as much as they clearly like their products.

For more information on how to align your in-store customer experience with the brand promise, download our free eBook: How Customer Experience Management Helps Front-Line Operations Uncover the Truth about their Stores.


Dheepan Ramanan is a data scientist at Clarabridge. Follow him on Twitter @DheepanRamanan.