Although reported fuel economy and quality improved for medium-duty trucks, the impact on satisfaction with new engines meeting the 2010 EPA emission regulations is negligible, according a report by J.D. Power and Associates.

The 2012 U.S. Medium-Duty Truck Customer Satisfaction Study finds that reported fuel economy for medium-duty trucks increased 12% in 2012, compared with 2011. In addition, problems per 100 trucks (PP100) improved to 123 PP100 this year from 141 PP100 in 2011.

Even with these positive improvements, customer satisfaction with medium-duty trucks remains flat at 757 (on a 1,000-point scale) in 2012, unchanged from 2011.

"Even with advances in fuel economy and quality, the cost to manage truck fleets continues to increase, negatively impacting satisfaction," said Brent Gruber, director of the commercial vehicle practice at J.D. Power and Associates. "Higher fuel and truck prices have impacted satisfaction, pushing principal maintainers to look at other cost savings options. However, they have concerns regarding new alternative fuel technology."

Alternative Technologies

Approximately 50% of fleet maintainers are familiar with the most popular alternative powertrains, but concerns with expected quality and reliability, availability of fuel and fueling stations and engine performance and acceleration are the primary reasons they will not consider purchasing trucks with these technologies.

Among all electric, hybrid, natural gas and propane "autogas" powertrain options available, the top reasons for purchase consideration are emissions and environmental impact and future cost savings. However, depending on the specific powertrain technology, only 3-6% of fleet maintainers say they "definitely will" consider purchasing such a truck.

"While fleet maintainers realize the potential long-term cost benefits of alternative fuel powertrains, reliability and fueling infrastructure are reasons for concern, resulting in much of the industry waiting to see the technology prove itself before making the investment," Gruber said. "In order for trucks with alternative powertrains to gain widespread market acceptance, truck manufacturers and energy providers will need to assure customers that they will not be sacrificing durability, payload capacity or ease of fueling with these new technologies."

Customer Perceptions

The 2012 study measures customer perceptions of 2011 model-year Class 5, 6 and 7 commercial trucks. Within the product index, six factors are used to determine overall satisfaction: engine; warranty; cost of operation; cab and body; ride/handling/braking; and transmission. The study also measures satisfaction with services received from an authorized truck dealer. Six factors comprise the service index: service facility; service quality; service advisor; service initiation; service delivery; and service price.

The study also finds that Class 5 trucks continue to have the highest quality levels in 2012, averaging 86 PP100. In comparison, Class 6 trucks average 151 PP100 and Class 7 trucks average 141 PP100.

With a score of 820, Hino ranks highest in customer satisfaction within the conventional truck segment for a third consecutive year. Hino performs well across all factors driving satisfaction, particularly warranty; cost of operation; cab and body; and ride, handling and braking.

In its first year of inclusion in the study, Dodge Ram ranks second for product satisfaction with a score of 806. Dodge Ram performs well in all factors, particularly in engine and cab and body. Freightliner 768 follows in the rankings.

Ford ranks highest in customer satisfaction with dealer service with a score of 827, performing particularly well in the service facility and service quality factors. Freightliner follows in the rankings with 807 points.

The 2012 U.S. Medium-Duty Truck Customer Satisfaction Study is based on responses from 1,272 primary maintainers of 2011 model-year Class 5, 6 and 7 conventional cab medium-duty trucks. The study was fielded between June and July 2012.