Detroit’s Big Three Automakers Outperform European and Asian Brands in New APEAL Study

According to a new study by J.D. Power and Associates, Detroit’s Big 3 automakers are producing more appealing models than their Asian and European rivals for the first time in well over a decade.

The 2010 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout study found that high-performance models from Ford Motor Company and General Motors Company showed the biggest improvements in customer satisfaction.

The top 12 brands were all luxury brands with the Mercedes-Benz S-class sedan receiving the highest satisfaction score of any model and Porsche being ranked as the top brand for the sixth consecutive year.

Ford’s Lincoln brand received the highest ranking of any domestic brand, followed by Chrysler Group’s Cadillac brand.

The study also found that new and refreshed Ford and GM vehicles were among the highest ranked models.

Ford, GM and Chrysler had an average score of 787 out of a possible 1,000 points to give them a combined lead of 13 points over Asian and European brands. Domestic automakers have been steadily moving up in the rankings since 2008 but this year’s study was the first time since 1997 that they have outperformed the competition.

According to J.D. Powers’ vice president of global vehicle research, David Sargent, Detroit’s gains can be credited to a number of factors. He said the automakers have refreshed or redesigned a number of models and retired many others with low customer appeal. They have also introduced a number of highly popular new models. The study showed that new models introduced by European and Asian automakers since 2008 have not improved their scores.

The study states, “Historically, vehicle models achieving high APEAL scores have been shown to generate faster sales, higher profit margins and less need for cash incentives. High levels of vehicle appeal also have a strong influence on customer recommendation rates.”

The APEAL study examines 80 unique attributes of each model as well as actual customer complaints and quality issues encountered by owners during their initial 90 days of ownership. The study considered responses from 76,000 2010 model owners and lessees.

J.D. Power and Associates says the APEAL study compliments its Initial Quality Study, which was released in June and brands that rank high in one study don’t necessarily rank high in the other. Jaguar, for example, ranked second in the APEAL survey but was fifth from the bottom in the Initial Quality study.

The study also found that Toyota’s problems may be more widespread than just the public relations debacle created by successive safety recalls. Toyota ranked second from the bottom in the APEAL study, falling four spots compared with last year’s study.

Sargent said, “Toyota has not performed well in the APEAL study. It’s traditionally performed well in IQS — this year, not as well. They are emotionally pretty reliable, but owners do not find them particularly exciting.” And Toyota, he said, is not alone among Asian automakers. Honda and Hyundai also ranked below the industry average in the APEAL study.

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