The Cox Automotive Retail Brand Scorecards Study ranked 34 automakers – 20 non-luxury and 14 luxury – across different factors that have the largest effect on dealer performance. Ford claimed the top spot in the non-luxury division, while Mercedes-Benz took the prize among luxury brands.

The Retail Brand Scorecards Study

Study Ranks Best and Worst Automotive BrandsThe Retail Brand Scorecards Study is an annual report conducted by Cox Automotive. The latest study was released in late January at the annual NADA convention, with rankings compiled by Cox Automotive in association with Automotive News.

The study looks at six key performance metrics – Best Customers, Range of Offerings, Age of Offerings, Digital Traffic, Customer Loyalty, and Attitudinal – and two bonus factors – Geographic Consistency and Manufacturer Mandates and Restrictions – to get a comprehensive overview of franchise dealerships' ability to succeed. The metrics studied covered key performance indicators that allowed Cox to grade brands using a data-driven framework.

The study ranked 20 non-luxury brands and 14 luxury brands. Each brand was graded across all six performance metrics on an A to F scale, and then ranked on a curve relative to other brands in their respective segment. A composite final score, which Cox presented as a grade point average (GPA), was developed based on these grades. For example, a brand that got six A's would receive a GPA of 4.0.

Dealership Brand Rankings

When all was said and done, five brands got A's or A-'s across all six metrics: Toyota, Chevrolet, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW. Toyota and BMW got straight A's, giving them perfect 4.0 GPAs.

Let's take a look at which brands succeeded and failed:

Best Non-Luxury Brand: Ford

Ford was named best in class among the 20 non-luxury brands measured. The Blue Oval received an A or A- in all six factors, as well as bonus points for strong geographic consistency and a low number of dealer complaints regarding OEM restrictions.

Here are the top five brands in the non-luxury segment and their GPAs:

1. Ford: 4.50

2. Toyota: 4.30

3. Honda: 3.97

4. Chevrolet: 3.95

5. Subaru: 3.63

And the bottom five:

5. Buick: 2.63

4. Mini: 2.10

3. Fiat: 1.77

2. Smart: 1.55

1. Mitsubishi: 1.23

Best Luxury Brand: Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz earned perfect A's across all subjects, though it earned an A- in Range of Offerings. Runner up Lexus also received an A in every subject except Range, where it got a B+.

The top five luxury brands and their GPAs were:

1. Mercedes-Benz: 3.95

2. Lexus: 3.88

3. BMW: 3.70

4. Acura: 3.67

5. Audi: 3.58

And the bottom five:

5. Lincoln: 3.10

4. Infiniti: 3.08

3. Genesis: 3.05

2. Tesla: 2.85

1. Jaguar: 2.72

A Closer Look at the Performance Metrics Used

Cox Automotive used these six core metrics that have a huge impact on dealer performance to compare brand performance:

  • Best Customers – "A brand's ability to capture ideal customers": Using segmentation data from Claritas, Cox measured a brand's capacity to get the business of customers that are likely to buy new, buy frequently, obtain dealership financing, return for service, and more. Top brands: Mini (non-luxury) and Tesla (luxury).
  • Range of Offerings – "Diversity and strength of a brand's vehicle lineup": Cox looked at each brand's lineup, taking note of which vehicle segments they perform well in and the volume of those segments in regards to the overall marketplace. Top brands: Nissan and BMW.
  • Age of Offerings – "'Newness' of a brand's vehicle lineup": Cox looked at the life cycle of models to determine how fresh a product lineup was. Top brands: Kia and Genesis.
  • Digital Traffic – "Consumer interest in a brand": Analysts ranked brands by average annual traffic to a make's vehicles on the websites of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, two other Cox Automotive properties. Top brands: Jeep and Porsche.
  • Customer Loyalty – "Shopper loyalty on KBB.com": For this factor, Cox looked at consumers who priced a trade-in from a certain make and then moved on to price a new vehicle from the same brand on KBB.com. Top brands: Ram and Genesis.
  • Attitudinal – "Consumers' perceptions of a brand": Using KBB's Brand Watch study, analysts ranked brands on key drivers of purchase behavior, such as safety, affordability, reputation, and durability. Top brands: Honda and Tesla.

The Bottom Line

Ford and Mercedes-Benz scored highest in their respective segments in this Cox Automotive study. Succeeding in the factors Cox analyzed is one way to have a successful dealership operation, but they're far from the only way.

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