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Car buying influenced by perception rather than analysis

January 26, 2012|By Jerry Hirsch
  • G.M. North America President Mark Reuss introduces cars at the Detroit auto show. New-vehicle shoppers are giving more consideration to domestic car brands such as these Chevrolet vehicles, according to market research firm J.D. Power.
G.M. North America President Mark Reuss introduces cars at the Detroit…

Why people decide to avoid a particular car brand turns out to be more a matter of hearsay rather than fact-based analysis.

That’s the conclusion of automotive market research firm J.D. Power & Associates in a study of why people avoid purchasing certain models and brands in favor of others.

The top reason why someone picks one car or another is styling – about 35% of buyers choose not to purchase a vehicle in the segment they are shopping based on looks alone, J.D. Power reports. Purchase price is the next decider, but after that it becomes a free-for-all with people ruling out vehicles because of vague impressions about their reliability, fuel economy and other characteristics.

“It becomes almost a matter tribal knowledge and these buyers carry these ideas forward for many years without doing any real research,” said Jon Osborn, research director at J.D. Power.

Dependability is one of the major reasons why shoppers say they avoid the Lincoln brand ofFord Motor Co., “but it turns out that Lincoln scores very high in our reliability studies, they are a top 10 performer among all brands,” Osborn said. “There is a real disconnect because of perception and reality.”

All told, more than 40% of new-vehicle buyers who avoided a particular model due to quality or reliability concerns say they based their opinions on conventional wisdom or common knowledge rather than personal experience, reviews, ratings or recommendations, he said.

The lesson for the auto industry is that when a brand or even specific model starts to develop positive attributes as defined by improved fuel economy and strong third-party reviews and reliability ratings, the manufacturers need to aggressively market those successes to change consumer perceptions.

Certain brands, including Hyundai, Ford, Chrysler Group’s Ram and Chevrolet seem to be having some success convincing shoppers they are building better vehicles.  That’s showing up both in raw sales numbers and other measures, Osborn said.

Consideration of the Ford brand by new-vehicle shoppers rose four percentage points to 37% last year from 2010.  Ram was up 12 points to 35%, Chevrolet up 4 points to 33% and Chrysler’s Jeep brand rose 7 points to 21%. Hyundai was up 5 points to 21%.

Generally, the domestic brands are on a roll. The percentage of buyers who avoided domestic models due to their origin has declined to 6%, a historically low level, Osborn said.

“The decline in avoidance of U.S. models due to their origin reflects a buy-American sentiment that surfaced as the economic recession led to domestic job losses and adversely affected major U.S. institutions such as the Detroit Big Three,” said Osborn. “In addition, the quality, dependability and appeal of domestic models has improved during the past several years, as well, and this may also be a cause for declining avoidance.” 

J.D. Power’s research is based on responses from approximately 24,045 owners who registered a new vehicle in May 2011. The study was fielded between August and October. 

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