Why do people buy SUVs, and why do 76% of shoppers avoid them?

January 16, 2017

Here's an interesting irony: according to J.D. Power's 2017 Auto Avoider Study, just 24 percent of U.S. consumers shopped for SUVs last year, and yet SUVs accounted for 42 percent of all vehicles sold, up from 34 percent in 2012.

Why are SUVs so popular now? And why have 76 percent of consumers turned their backs on them? To answer those questions, we'll need to take a deeper dive into the survey, which polled over 27,500 Americans who registered new vehicles in April and May of 2016. 

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We'll start with the latter question. According to Power's survey, car buyers who avoided SUVs last year say that they did do because the SUVs were too expensive and didn't get good gas mileage--at least, not as good as a comparably priced car.

In other words, those car shoppers were put off by SUV purchase prices and by the costs of ownership. 

Money is a concern for SUV buyers, too. However, those folks are finding ways to avoid the cash crunch. Power's Dave Sargent says that many consumers are gravitating toward SUVs these days because of "[l]ow fuel prices, favorable lease deals and the availability of low-interest loans".

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In other words, it's cheaper to drive an SUV right now--no small concern, given that SUVs are about nine percent pricier than comparably equipped cars. 

However, cost isn't the only factor for SUV shoppers. They're also interested in:
  • Four-wheel-drive and/or all-wheel-drive capability (a major concern for 48 percent of SUV shoppers)
  • Safety (45 percent)
  • Cargo capacity (42 percent)

What SUV shoppers aren't interested in is brand loyalty. According to Power's results, a whopping 38 percent of SUV buyers say that they'd never owned a vehicle of the same brand. That's significantly higher than the figures for car and truck buyers.

Other facts

Power's survey uncovered a few other interesting tidbits from respondents. Here are some that caught our attention.

  • Exterior and interior styling remain the #1 and #2 criteria for all vehicle shoppers. Among those polled, 62 percent said that exterior style was a top criteria, and 61 percent said that of interior style.
  • Reliability is also hugely important. In fact, 59 percent of respondents rated it a top criteria, up from 55 percent in last year's survey.   
  • Compact SUVs are hot properties--the most frequently shopped class of vehicles in America. What's more, the people who shop for compact SUVs more often than not buy one. Last year, 61 percent of shoppers considering compact SUVs purchased one.
  • Kia and Volkswagen continue to be plagued by bad press. Among mainstream brands, more consumers avoided Kia than any other, due to concerns about reliability. Meanwhile, just 4.5 percent of consumers considered Volkswagens, with 20 percent actively avoiding the brand. Power links Volkswagen's problem directly to the Dieselgate scandal.  

Did you buy a new vehicle last year? What sorts of vehicles turned your head? What kind did you avoid? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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