Power: Younger Buyers Avoiding Domestics

December 2, 2007
2008 HUMMER H3 Alpha

2008 HUMMER H3 Alpha

A new study from J.D. Power & Associates offers some new insight into the steep cost American carmakers are paying for what is seen a sluggish response to rising fuel prices. The new Power study also underscored the importance of perception in consumer attitudes toward various vehicles and brands.While older buyers who purchase domestic vehicles are more likely to avoid certain models because they are imports, younger consumers who purchase import vehicles are more likely to avoid models because they are of domestic origin, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2007 Avoider Study.

Among import buyers for example, the younger the person is, the more likely they are to avoid models because they are of domestic origin, the study found.

The study was based on responses from more than 35,000 owners who registered a new vehicle in May 2007, and it examines the reasons consumers fail to consider particular models when shopping for a new vehicle.

The survey also found that buyers aren’t particularly impressed with vehicles described as “environmentally friendly” but they do want vehicles with good fuel economy. Gas mileage is the most frequently mentioned reason for purchasing a vehicle, while it remains the seventh most frequently cited reason for avoiding a particular vehicle model, the study found. Buyers tend to avoid non-premium brands more often due to poor gas mileage, compared with premium makes.

Customer perceptions of poor gas mileage, rather than actual data regarding fuel economy performance, may influence these avoidance decisions, the study indicated. A greater proportion of the import buyers also mention poor gas mileage as a reason for avoiding domestic models. In addition, younger buyers “are more apt to indicate gas mileage as a reason for purchasing, compared with their older counterparts,” the study said.

The data from J.D. Power already seems to have had influence on domestic carmakers, who cannot afford to alienate the younger generation of car buyers. General Motors recently announced that it is putting more effort behind selling the Chevrolet brand as a leader in fuel efficiency, and both Ford and Chrysler have stepped up efforts to sell the fuel efficiency of their vehicles.

However, domestic manufacturers are still haunted by past reputations for shoddy quality, despite the all-out and to a large degree successful, efforts by GM, Ford, and Chrysler to improve, the study found.

“Many buyers continue to have unfavorable impressions of domestic models due to concerns about quality, reliability and depreciation issues, even though the quality of many of these domestic products is on par with or exceeds that of their import counterparts,” said Jon Osborn, research director at J.D. Power and Associates. “Domestic manufacturers need to get this message out in front of younger buyers and convince them to put their models on their shopping list.”

“As an example, the HUMMER H3 is the most-avoided model in its segment, with 21 percent of buyers saying that they would not consider buying this model and many citing poor gas mileage as a reason,” said Osborn. “However, EPA fuel economy estimates for the HUMMER H3 are very similar to those of other mid-size utility vehicles, such as the Jeep Commander and Chrysler Aspen, which have much lower rates of avoidance.

“The perception that the HUMMER model gets worse gas mileage than other comparable models may be strongly influencing consumer decisions to exclude it from consideration — especially since gas prices have remained high. Changing customer perceptions by educating buyers about this model’s fuel efficiency performance may help to lower its avoidance rates,” he added.

Not surprisingly perhaps, the study also found that the North Central region of the United States contains the highest proportion (41 percent) of domestic vehicle buyers who do not consider import brands during the shopping process. Vehicle styling and cost are the two most frequently reported reasons that consumers give for avoiding import brands.

In the Northeast and the West -- regions that contain the highest proportions of buyers of import vehicles -- shoppers say they avoid specific models because they are domestic in origin. The most frequently cited reasons given for avoiding a domestic brand are concerns about reliability, poor quality, and depreciation.

The study also found that buyers are making avoidance decisions based on consumer-generated information found on the Internet, with consumer reviews most often cited as a source leading to avoidance, followed by expert reviews and manufacturer site information.

-- Joseph Szczesny

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