Fuel mileage makes buying a new car not all it's cracked up to be

Could the American love affair tied in to the purchase of a new car be losing some of its luster? Perhaps, it seems, as ever-increasing gas prices impact U.S. driver's pocketbooks, J.D. Power and Associates is reporting a decline in new car owner satisfaction for the first time in five years. Despite the fact that consumers have been reporting mileage numbers in line with the EPA's newly-revised ratings, the cost of filling up the tank is doing nothing but increasing. Interestingly, though, it is not the fuel-sippers that are scoring the highest. Luxury and performance brands are still getting the highest overall marks. We surmise that this could have something to do with the fact that those individuals who can afford a Porsche or BMW can probably afford to put gas in its tank.
Overall, the average score for all new vehicles dropped by two points to 770 out of 1000 possible points. Porsche was the highest ranked brand, while Ford's redesigned small car, the Focus, posted the largest single-model increase in owner satisfaction and Buick make the largest brand-wide increase. Be sure to click past the break to see more specifics.

[Source: J.D. Power and Associates]

Press Release:

In a reversal of a steady upward trend from previous years, overall new-vehicle owner delight has declined slightly in 2008, primarily due to owner concerns about fuel prices, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2008 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) StudySM released today.

The study, now in its 13th year, measures owner delight with the design, content, layout and performance of their new vehicles. APEAL complements the J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality StudySM (IQS), which focuses on problems experienced by owners during the first 90 days of ownership. APEAL examines how gratifying a new vehicle is to own and drive, based on owner evaluations of 10 measures, encompassing more than 90 vehicle attributes. Over the years, vehicle models achieving high APEAL scores have been shown to benefit from faster sales, reduced need for consumer incentives and higher margins on each vehicle sold.

The overall APEAL score in 2008 averages 770 on a 1,000-point scale-a 2-point decrease since 2007. A significant decrease in owner delight with fuel economy accounts for more than one-half of the overall decline.

"Average prices at the fuel pump have increased by 27 percent in the period between the 2007 and 2008 APEAL studies, creating heightened sensitivity to fuel economy among new-vehicle owners," said David Sargent, vice president of automotive research at J.D. Power and Associates. "Even though more consumers are now achieving the gas mileage they expect compared with previous years, the increased cost of filling their vehicles still leads to a greater level of dissatisfaction with fuel economy than in the past. Manufacturers that deliver more fuel-efficient vehicles and integrate alternative fuel technology into their designs stand a better chance of delighting their customers and being successful in this rapidly changing marketplace."

The study finds that overall scores for most APEAL performance measures have either stayed the same or declined since 2007; only performance in the area of audio, entertainment and navigation improves slightly.

"Manufacturers are working to increase customer delight by introducing entertainment and navigation technology that owners find particularly appealing," said Sargent. "The key to doing this successfully is to develop technology features with the needs and wants of the user in mind-most importantly, ensuring that technology is designed to be consumer-friendly and intuitive to use. Technology that is overly complicated to operate runs the risk of disappointing the customer."

The study also finds that, in a departure from previous years, models that have been mildly "refreshed" achieve higher APEAL scores, on average, than all-new or redesigned models.

"Historically, all-new vehicle models have been more successful in delighting customers than refreshed models, but this year, launching appealing new models has been more difficult for manufacturers," said Sargent. "The long-term success of a model can be predicted partially from how well it launches, which underscores the importance of a strong debut. Those automakers that manage to achieve high levels of both appeal and initial quality in their models can expect to benefit not only from customer acclaim, but also increased profitability."

APEAL Model-Level and Nameplate Rankings
Honda captures three model segment awards-more than any other vehicle nameplate this year-for the Fit (for a second consecutive year), Odyssey (for a fourth consecutive year) and Ridgeline (for a fourth consecutive year). Porsche, Toyota and Volkswagen each garner two awards. Porsche models receiving awards are the Cayenne and Cayman (for a third consecutive year), while Toyota earns awards for the FJ Cruiser and Sequoia. Volkswagen receives awards for the GTI/R32 (for a second consecutive year) and the Passat. The Honda Fit and Toyota Sequoia are the only two models to rank highest in their segments in both the APEAL and IQS studies.

Also receiving awards are the BMW 5 Series, Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Avalanche, Dodge Magnum, Land Rover Range Rover, Lexus IS, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and MINI Cooper.

Porsche is the highest-ranking nameplate in APEAL for a fourth consecutive year. Among the 36 ranked nameplates, 20 experience a decline in index scores since 2007, while 15 improve. Domestic brands comprise the eight most-improved nameplates. Buick posts the largest improvement, followed by Chrysler, Ford, Mercury and Dodge, respectively. A majority of the most-improved models are also from domestic manufacturers, including the redesigned Ford Focus, Dodge Grand Caravan and Chevrolet Malibu.

The 2008 APEAL Study is based on responses gathered between February and May 2008 from more than 81,500 purchasers and lessees of new 2008 model-year cars and trucks who were surveyed after the first 90 days of ownership.

Find more detailed findings on new-vehicle APEAL performance as well as model photos and specs by watching a video, reading an article and reviewing APEAL ratings at JDPower.com.

About J.D. Power and Associates
Headquartered in Westlake Village, Calif., J.D. Power and Associates is a global marketing information services firm operating in key business sectors including market research, forecasting, performance improvement, training and customer satisfaction. The firm's quality and satisfaction measurements are based on responses from millions of consumers annually. For more information on boat ratings, car reviews and ratings, car insurance, health insurance, cell phone ratings, and more, please visit JDPower.com. J.D. Power and Associates is a business unit of The McGraw-Hill Companies.

About The McGraw-Hill Companies
Founded in 1888, The McGraw-Hill Companies is a leading global information services provider meeting worldwide needs in the financial services, education and business information markets through leading brands such as Standard & Poor's, McGraw-Hill Education, BusinessWeek and J.D. Power and Associates. The Corporation has more than 280 offices in 40 countries. Sales in 2007 were $6.8 billion. Additional information is available at http://www.mcgraw-hill.com/.

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