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VW Winning High Marks, Survey Finds


A re-energized Volkswagen appears to be winning consumers with its new designs, strong warranty program and pricing, a new survey shows.

Excluding the new Beetle, a 1999 model, cars distributed by Michigan-based Volkswagen of America Inc. won top honors in every category in which VW competes--from small cars to convertibles--in the 1998 "total value" awards issued Monday by Strategic Vision Inc., a San Diego market research firm.

Industry analysts say VW, once an also-ran in quality and buyer satisfaction surveys, has improved in recent years. "They are definitely making headway relative to the other auto makers," said Eric Noble of AutoPacific Inc. in Santa Ana.

Owners surveyed by Strategic Vision praised their cars for quality, workmanship and value. They also gave VW of America high marks for its warranty program.

Strategic Vision surveys about 50,000 new-car and truck buyers each year to prepare its value index. The index measures consumers' perceptions of the costs of buying and operating their vehicles and their expectations for resale value and long-term durability.

All of the top-rated cars scored more than 700 out of a top score of 1,000 on Strategic Vision's value index--the Volvo S70 sedan topped the chart with a score of 789. None of the trucks and vans did better than the Honda Odyssey 697. As with most such surveys, luxury and "near-luxury" cars such as the Lexus LS400 and the Volvo S-series sedan scored the highest despite their high prices.

In addition to price and the size of the deal they got when buying, consumers defined value in terms of perceived quality, said Dan Gorrell, Strategic Vision's senior vice president.

Volkswagen buyers gave top scores to the Golf for small cars; the Jetta for compacts; the Passat for mid-size cars; and the Cabriolet for convertibles priced under $30,000.

The Ford Crown Victoria was the high scorer in the larger-car category; Volvo won for near-luxury models; and Lexus scored highest of the luxury cars.

In the truck categories, the Honda Odyssey was the top-ranked minivan; Honda's CRV was the top small sport-utility vehicle; the Mercury Mountaineer (an upgraded Explorer) scored highest among mid-size SUVs; and the Chevrolet Tahoe-GMC Yukon twins were high scorers among full-size SUVs.

Among pickup trucks, Toyota's T-100 tied with the Ford F Series pickups as top value in full-size category, and the Chevrolet S10 was high scorer among compacts.

Strategic Vision, which has been issuing its total value ratings since 1995, is one of several research firms that rate vehicle quality and value based on buyer surveys.

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