Like Power, AutoPacific also evaluates individual vehicles for manufacturers, so-called "proprietary research" the public never hears about.
To do that, AutoPacific leads focus groups and conducts clinics and mail and telephone surveys to gauge the public's reaction to certain models. The firm will ask for drivers' opinions about a car's outside and inside styling, its performance and comparison to rival cars in its class, sometimes by lining up the different cars and asking the respondents to make comparisons.
Not surprisingly, Power provides similar services. Which begs the question: What does AutoPacific offer that Power doesn't? Peterson said it is more detailed knowledge of each car and truck and their sales prospects, and presentation in a more simplified form. The car-by-car forecast, for instance, reflects research "no one has done," Peterson asserted.
"The auto industry is very big, it has a tremendous need for information presented in a way that the companies can use it," Peterson said. "That's what we've prided ourselves on, to take this information overload and provide an analysis the client can use."
Patricia Patano, marketing director for special projects at Power, said, "I'm surprised they'd make that kind of statement given that they don't know what we're doing at present." Besides, she added, "We're looking at our last product as our biggest competition."
Regardless, the car makers are reading AutoPacific's research along with studies by Power and other car researchers such as Autofacts in West Chester, Pa. "Each one offers certain strengths," said Tom Rossi, a spokesman at Mazda's U. S. base in Irvine. Mazda's researchers, he said, believe "AutoPacific seems to be a little better on product-specific stuff," meaning its research about individual cars.
Cedergren used to work for Peterson at Power in the mid-1980s, and after eight years with Power he joined AutoPacific. Cedergren, 37, won't comment on the lawsuit, but said his departure was initially amicable.
AutoPacific is "a situation where I tend to be more my own boss," said Cedergren. In recent years Power has gotten bigger and branched into surveys for other industries--the company now ranks personal computers by customer satisfaction, for instance. "I prefer the environment of a smaller company," Cedergren said.
Peterson said Cedergren didn't get a big raise to join AutoPacific. But Cedergren does share in the profits of the firm's forecasting guide, so "his compensation is directly related to the success of the product," Peterson said.
But the more immediate question is whether AutoPacific can survive the cost of defending the lawsuit. Peterson said it can.
"I'm just about the only former Power employee who has ever gone on to build his own business that successfully competed in any way with what J.D. Power & Associates does," he said. "We can handle it."