Roy Cokayne

Black customers have different expectations of the vehicle sales and servicing processes to white customers only at their entry point to the car market, according to a new survey.

Richard Rice, a director at Ipsos South Africa, said the overall differences by race between the expectations of vehicle customers were minimal.

The black customer for the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the white customer for the same model “is the same person with the same expectation”, he said.

“The expectations of customers are coming very much in line, which is a good thing for vehicle dealers because it means they are delivering a similar level of service (to all) and can deliver one level of service and it will suit everybody,” he said.

Rice said at the bottom end of the vehicle market, black customers had different motivations and emotions to their white counterparts.

This came from the historical background of black people, where they were largely transported by taxi, and were not safe or able to go where they wanted to when they wanted to, compared with many white customers who were from relatively more privileged backgrounds and seldom had to use public transport.

He said among black first-time car buyers there was a huge sense of being trapped and the sense of freedom they got from buying their first car was “huge”.

Many black people were also possibly the first person in their family or community to own a car, resulting in “this huge status symbol” being attached to them.

Rice said the different motivations of black first-time car buyers had led to them being extremely suspicious when they walked into a vehicle dealership and concerned that they were “going to be ripped off”.

Black first-time car buyers therefore armed themselves with information to make sure they were not “ripped off”.

Rice stressed that vehicle dealers had to instil a sense of trust in all their customers, which was an emotional sense, and manufacturers who got this right were “going to take a quantum leap above the others”.

He said manufacturers had made a big effort to get a consistent level of service across all customer types, which meant everybody, including entry-level vehicle owners, was starting to get a better level of service.

Rice’s comments coincided with Ipsos SA announcing its 2012 automotive industry quality awards for sales and service experience, which are based on interviews with customers who purchased or serviced a vehicle between January and December last year.

Audi took the top spot in the category for passenger car purchasing experience for the second consecutive year with a score of 96 percent, followed by Volkswagen (95 percent) and Chevrolet (94.8 percent). The average score for this category improved to 93.5 percent from 90 percent last year.

“The top performers in this category include a nice mix of brands with both mass and luxury vehicles represented. This reflects very nicely on the automotive industry because it shows unconditional treatment regardless of the ‘type’ of consumer.”

Chevrolet with 88 percent topped the passenger car servicing experience category, followed by Lexus (87.9 percent), Volkswagen (87.6 percent), Opel (87.5 percent), Audi (87.2 percent), Mitsubishi (86.5 percent) and Mercedes-Benz (85.9 percent).