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Non-luxury buyers favor European makes; luxury owners look to Asia: study

November 23, 2010
European nameplates on average are most appealing to non-luxury new-vehicle owners, while Japanese nameplates are most appealing to luxury owners, according to a new J.D. Power and Associates study. The 2003 APEAL Study (Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout), which measures owners' delight with the design, content, layout and performance of their new vehicles, finds that, on average, non-luxury European nameplates far exceed Japanese, U.S. and Korean nameplates in the exterior styling; cockpit/instrument panel; and ride, handling and braking categories. Japanese luxury nameplates have moderate advantages, on average, in categories pertaining to the interior, including comfort/convenience; sound system; heating, ventilation and cooling; and seats. The study also finds several highly successful all-new and redesigned model launches have succeeded in raising customer satisfaction much higher than that for the models they replaced. The Mazda6 stands out as the most improved redesign, improving an impressive 8 percent over the Mazda 626 it replaced. Other successful redesigns include the Land Rover Range Rover, Saturn Ion and Toyota Sienna (2004). "The opportunity to move the appeal needle in a positive direction happens when manufacturers introduce all-new designs or the redesign of existing models," said J.D. Power's Joe Ivers. "Many of this year's launches took advantage of this opportunity and have produced home runs." Among the most successful launches are the Nissan Maxima (2004), Mercury Marauder, Acura TSX, BMW Z4, Subaru Baja, Honda Element, Nissan Murano, Lexus RX 330 (2004), and Toyota Sienna (2004), which each ranked highest in their respective vehicle segments. Launch models have made big inroads in both the midsize and luxury SUV segments, sweeping the top four positions. Following the highest-ranking Nissan Murano in the midsize SUV segment are the Honda Pilot, Toyota 4Runner and the Kia Sorento, respectively. These four models have raised the bar for the segment by scoring higher in APEAL than the Toyota Highlander did in 2002 to top the segment. The Lexus RX 330 (2004) ranks highest in the luxury SUV segment, followed by the Lexus GX 470, Land Rover Range Rover and the Infiniti FX series, respectively. "Each of these models," said Ivers, "has delighted customers by outperforming the typical segment performance while also reflecting competitive advantages in the areas that matter most to buyers in those segments. For instance, makers of the top-performing luxury SUVs have concentrated their competitive advantages in the engine and transmission (i.e., powertrain) areas, which are most important to their buyers. Other models emphasized exterior styling, which is important to buyers, but to a lesser degree. Like Likewise, the Toyota Sienna gets very high ratings for the usefulness of its interior space, successfully aligning to customer needs." Toyota Motor Sales landed the most APEAL awards in 2003, with four models ranking highest in their respective segments. Lexus is the top-ranked nameplate, and Porsche Cars North America, Inc. is the highest-ranking corporation in the study. The 2003 APEAL Study is based on responses from 102,975 new-vehicle owners. The study, now in its eighth year, is based on eight specific categories of vehicle performance and design that identify what consumers like and dislike about their new vehicles during the first 90 days of ownership. The areas are: engine/transmission; ride, handling and braking; comfort/convenience; seats; cockpit/instrument panel; heating, ventilation and cooling; sound system; and styling/exterior.