J.D. Power APEAL Study Finds Higher Satisfaction Among New Car Buyers

According to a new study by J.D. Power & Associates, new car and truck buyers are, for the most part, pleased with quality of their purchases. For struggling automakers, customer satisfaction is key to their survival during the current economic downturn.

J.D. Power & Associates conducts numerous studies including the highly publicized Initial Quality Study (IQS) and Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS). In its Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout Study (APEAL), released yesterday, J.D. Power & Associates measured new vehicle owner’s satisfaction scores based on 90 attributes including handling, braking, comfort / convenience, styling and others.

The APEAL study was first conducted in 1996 and, this year, was tabulated based on survey responses provided by nearly 81,000 new-vehicle buyers.

Based on a 1,000-point scale, this year’s average score for both new and redesigned vehicles as 790, which has 11 points higher than the average score reported in the 2008 study.

For the fifth consecutive year, the APEAL study ranked German automaker Porsche highest in overall owner satisfaction. Porsche received a composite score (averaging the scores of all models included in the study) of 869. Jaguar ranked slightly lower with a composite score of 859 followed by U.S. automaker Cadillac with a composite score of 852. Two other German automakers, Audi and BMW, ranked among the top five with composite scores of 846 and 844 respectively.

Volkswagen was another big winner with four segment-level awards – the most of any automaker included in the study. U.S. automaker, Ford Motor Company, received two model-level awards for its F-150 pickup and the new Flex. The F-150 was one of only two models to rank highest in both 2009 APEAL Study and the 2009 Initial Quality Study. Honda’s Ridgeline shares that distinction with the F-150. Honda, Nissan and Mercedes-Benz each received two awards, and other award recipients of note include the Dodge Challenger and Mini Cooper.
J.D. Power’s vice president of automotive research, David Sargent, says, "People expect and want more than just reliability. If you design a vehicle that just gets people from Point A to Point B, that’s today’s bad vehicle."

Automakers hope that this and other studies will convince nervous consumers that the recent financial turmoil that has affected every sector of their industry has not diminished the quality of their vehicles. To the contrary, this year’s study indicates that auto manufacturers are, indeed, heading in the right direction with respect to quality improvements.

New Car Dealers Association of Metropolitan Dallas president Drew Campbell asserts that new car buyers need a reason to return to dealer showrooms. He says, "Styling will do it. Technology will do it. You’ve got to have a catalyst to wake people back up."

As with any competition there are winners and losers, and this year’s study delivers some surprising results. Among the automakers who received below industry-average composite scores were the Japanese Big Three, Toyota, Honda and Nissan, which have dominated the domestic U.S. market in recent months. There is also bad news for GM which is struggling to emerge from restructuring bankruptcy. Four of the automaker’s brands, Pontiac, Chevrolet, Chrysler and Jeep ranked below the industry average score. Japanese automaker Suzuki ranked lowest in overall satisfaction among new car buyers surveyed.

Toyota, Honda and Nissan ‘ the Japanese Big Three ‘ all ranked below the industry average, as did Pontiac, Chevrolet, Mercury, Chrysler and Jeep. Suzuki finished last in the survey.

In the ongoing battle for market share, this year’s study indicates an overall narrowing of the gap to a mere five points between import and domestic automakers. U.S. companies, overall, ranked higher among non-premium models while foreign automakers dominated the premium-vehicle market.

The broad message the study sends to consumers, according to David Sargent, is "There’s a whole array of great vehicles out there. When people do come back to the market, they will be pleasantly surprised at how good cars have gotten."

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