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New Beetle Outpoints PT Cruiser in J.D. Power New-Vehicle Buyer Survey


Although PT Cruiser mania has kept the price of the delivery-van-styled sedan in the stratosphere, New Beetle buyers are slightly buggier about their cars, according to a new-vehicle buyer survey by automotive marketing specialist J.D. Power & Associates.

The Agoura Hills firm's annual APEAL study--that's not bad spelling but an acronym for Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout--found that in the battle of hot retro-styled models, Volkswagen's Bug outscored Chrysler's Cruiser in customer raves to take top place in the compact-car segment.

The study ranks cars and light trucks based on new owners' ratings of more than 100 characteristics in eight broad categories, including design, interior comfort, and engine and transmission performance.

Although Cruiser buyers feel good about most of the attributes of their vehicles--and many have shown their strong feelings by paying as much as 50% over sticker price--they hang their heads when it comes time to rate the engine and transmission package, Power researchers found.

The 2000 New Beetle, which has more engine-transmission offerings than the Cruiser, gets far better marks in that category from new owners, said Jacques daCosta, senior manager of product research at J.D. Power. The Cruiser finished second to the Beetle in the compact segment; Volkswagen's Golf captured the bronze.

Other key results of the 2000 APEAL study:

* Subaru is finally broadening is appeal as the Forester sport wagon--which helped create the so-called crossover segment that blends cars and sport-utility vehicles--took top spot in the mini-SUV category ahead of Toyota's RAV4 and Honda's CR-V.

* The redesigned S-Class luxury model by Mercedes-Benz has broken the BMW-Lexus stranglehold (they had previously traded the No. 1 and 2 rankings fairly regularly) on the premium luxury segment. Lexus dropped out of the top three this time, with BMW's 5-Series taking second place and its 7-Series third.

* Car and truck buyers are bored with recycled looks and are fast gravitating toward new vehicles or totally redesigned models. DaCosta calls them, collectively, the segment leaders. Of 200 models included in the study, 47 were new or redesigned, and 14 of those wound up in the top three of their respective categories--the best showing ever by segment leaders, DaCosta said.

"Consumers are getting tired of so-called evolutionary design, where this year's new model looks pretty much like last year's," he said. "They are not afraid of revolutionary design, as long as it is well thought out."

Overall, the nearly 102,000 new-vehicle buyers who responded to the APEAL survey gave higher marks to their respective vehicles than those of years past--an indication that auto makers are providing more bang for the buck than ever before.

"But the best [ratings] went largely to vehicles that defined or redefined their segments," DaCosta said, naming BMW's X5 luxury SUV, Honda's Odyssey minivan, Toyota's full-size Tundra pickup and Chevrolet's Corvette sports car. (The 'Vette, Dodge's Dakota compact pickup and Ford's Econoline full-size van were the only domestic models to top a category.)

DaCosta said APEAL survey respondents were richer than auto buyers overall, with average household income of $82,000 versus $68,000 industrywide. There also were more males, 62% versus an industry average of 50%. But the respondents spent less on their new vehicles, with a median transaction price of $20,000 versus the national average this year of almost $23,000.


Times staff writer John O'Dell covers the auto industry for Highway 1 and the Business section. He can be reached at

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