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Which car dealers treat you best?

  • Story Highlights
  • A dealer's responsiveness to your inquiries is important when looking at cars online
  • Study ranks dealers on responsiveness, follow-through and 13 quality measures
  • Lexus responded to questions faster than any other dealer
  • Infiniti dealers don't believe in "slash and burn" pricing discounts
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By Kevin Ransom
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New Cars, Used Cars, Kelley Blue Book Values at AOL Autos

(AOL Autos) -- In this economy, great car deals abound. But sometimes a great price isn't enough; you want to do business with a dealer who is responsive to your needs and questions.

Which car dealers treat you best?

As more car shoppers use Web sites like AOL Autos to research their car and request price quotes from dealers, a dealer's responsiveness to inquiries over email and the Internet can mean the difference between a happy buyer and a non-existent one. As a result, smart car shoppers will be interested in the results of a recent survey conducted by The Cobalt Group that reports on what brands and manufacturers are most responsive to online car shoppers.

The comprehensive survey, the 2008 Automotive eShopper Experience Study, compiled data based on Cobalt's online inquires to dealerships representing thirty brands. The study ranked the brands, based on responsiveness, follow-through and 13 quality measures.

Those factors were used to calculate a score, the "Automotive eShopper Index" (ASI), that rates each brand's responsiveness to those online inquires. What this means to you is that brands with a higher ASI score will have dealers who typically treat you better if you're using the Internet to research your next car.

The following list reveals brands that made the study's Top 10, including their ASI scores and some of Cobalt's findings:

1. Lexus | ASI Score: 59.5

When asking dealers for information on a new vehicle, consumers expect responses at Internet speed. Lexus responded to these inquiries, via e-mail, more quickly than any other manufacturer. However, with speed can sometimes come brevity. So, Lexus shoppers may need to follow up with a phone call to get more information before visiting the dealership.

2. Chevrolet | ASI Score: 49.4

The biggest news in this study was Chevrolet's leap to No. 2 from its 2007 ranking of 15th. Chevrolet dealers delivered major improvements across the board in response rate and response quality. Not only did Chevy dealerships respond quickly, they were also thorough in answering the shopper's questions, explaining the value of doing business at their dealership, and offering good reasons to buy a new Chevrolet.

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3. Volkswagen | ASI Score: 48.7

Cobalt found that shoppers were likely to get an email response to inquiries to Volkswagen dealers, but were not likely to get a phone call soon afterward. But that's the way some shoppers like it. VW dealers were diligent in answering all questions posed by the shopper, especially regarding to the specific model the shopper was interested in -- which is important to consumers but often neglected by dealers.

4. Honda | ASI Score: 48.1

Honda seems serious about giving their customers the highest quality Internet shopping experience. Its dealers responded quickly and were diligent about following up to make sure that the shopper was satisfied with the reply. Honda dealers were more likely than most to quote the vehicle's price, and present alternative choices -- whether it was a lower-cost model, or one with all the bells and whistles.

5. Audi | ASI Score: 46.8

Like other top-ranked brands, Audi dealers were attentive to customers. A quick email response was likely, although a return phone call to the consumer was not as likely. Customers were generally able to find out if their preferred vehicle was available, but were also more likely to have to visit to the dealership in person -- or call - to get a price quote. However, Audi dealerships didn't offer the shopper much info on the benefits of owning an Audi.

6. Toyota | ASI Score: 45.1

Slipping from their 5th-place 2007 ranking, Toyota continued to deliver a balanced performance. Shoppers could expect an email response to their inquiries, although return phone calls were rare. Response speed was about average among the brands surveyed, but odds are good that questions would be answered - especially those regarding new car pricing. Also, Toyota dealers weren't shy about extolling the virtues of buying from them.

7. Hummer | ASI Score: 44.7

Hummer dealerships were more likely than most brands to call their shoppers on the phone, compared to replying via e-mail. Not all questions were answered in e-mail replies, but shoppers received a good deal of info from Hummer dealers about why they should come in and test drive a Hummer as soon as possible. In fact, Hummer was one of the brands that really touted its value and brand strengths, which was rare across the brands in this study.

8. Jeep | ASI Score: 44.4

Jeep dealers definitely favored the e-mail reply over a phone response, and they were the strongest when it came to offering attractive incentives. Their responses typically presented compelling reasons to own a Jeep -- as well as the value of doing business at the local Jeep dealership. Jeep buyers might have to hurry, though, if they want to get a deal -- many Jeep dealerships offered incentives that expired in seven days or less.

9. Saturn | ASI Score: 43.2

Saturn and Infiniti "tied" for the No. 9 position in the rankings. Shoppers in the study found that, after first receiving a very speedy email response from Saturn dealers, they often also got a follow-up phone call. Although the dealership didn't always answer all of the shoppers questions in that first email, Saturn retailers did offer some of the most creative and attractive incentives in the industry -- and always courteous and professional.

9. Infiniti | ASI Score: 43.2

Tied with Saturn, Infiniti dealers were more likely to call the shopper on the phone than any other brand. It was also one of the brands that replied most quickly via e-mail, and Infiniti dealers did a good job of replying to shoppers' specific questions. Many dealerships stressed the value of Infiniti ownership, but shoppers shouldn't expect much in the way of "slash and burn" pricing discounts. That's just not the Infiniti way, even in a down economy.

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