On first glance, General Motors seems to have a lot to crow about in the latest JD Power APEAL rankings. After all, its Chevrolet brand claimed three segment awards – the most of any single brand – and Cadillac finished tied for eighth place overall in the 2012 edition of the study. But upon closer inspection, the results may not be quite so rosy for The General.

The APEAL study ranks new vehicles for how "gratifying" they are, based on owner evaluations of some 80 attributes. Yes, this is something of an automotive popularity contest. And the problem for GM is that, overall, its customers just don't like its products as much as those who buy from other carmakers.

Buick, Chevrolet and GMC all scored below the industry average in the 2012 APEAL study. Despite Cadillac's top ten ranking, the only luxury brands it managed to beat were Acura, Lincoln and Volvo, luxury bottom-feeders all. To be fair, we should note that Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Nissan also failed to finish above the industry average, though both Ford and Chrysler did, but barely.

The Chevrolet vehicles that claimed segment awards sent something of a mixed message. While the Sonic finishing first among subcompacts has to be seen as a huge win for GM, the other segment awards went to the Volt and Avalanche, in the compact and large pickup categories, respectively. The Volt is a great car, but it isn't a volume product and the Avalanche is a dead truck walking, slated to go out of production after the 2013 model year. The only other GM vehicle to make the top three in any segment was the Cadillac Escalade in the mostly moribund Large Premium Crossover/SUV. Nary a Buick or GMC is to be found on the list in any position.

Meanwhile, down I-94 in Dearborn, Ford has six vehicles in the top three in their respective segments, including winners in Large Crossover/SUV (Expedition) and Midsize Crossover/SUV (Flex). Even Chrysler managed to snag two segment awards (Dodge Challenger and Charger) and land three other vehicles in the top three in their segments.

If we really wanted to crown an APEAL winner, that title might just go to Audi, whose A8 had the highest score of any model and also won a segment award for the A6, while placing third overall. Porsche, however, could rightly lay the best claim to the 2012 APEAL championship, considering it had the highest brand score and won two segments, for the 911 and Cayenne.

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J.D. Power and Associates Reports: As Vehicle Appeal Improves, Owners Find That Downsizing Doesn't Necessarily Mean Downgrading

Chevrolet Receives Three Segment-Level Awards; Audi, Dodge, Ford, Kia, MINI, Nissan and Porsche Each Receive Two

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif.: 25 July 2012 -- As owners continue to shift toward smaller vehicles, they are finding that the ones they buy are often just as appealing as the larger vehicles they previously owned, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2012 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) StudySM released today.

The study finds that 27 percent of new-vehicle buyers who replaced a vehicle downd--meaning they purchased a new vehicle in a smaller segment than the vehicle they replaced. In contrast, only 13 percent of buyers "upd," while 60 percent purchased a new vehicle in the same segment as their previous vehicle.

"New-vehicle buyers who down are not making the sacrifice that they once were," said David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power and Associates. "Automakers are heavily focused on providing the U.S. market with appealing smaller models, and buyers may be surprised at just how good some of them are."

The vehicles currently being traded in for new ones are approximately six years old, on average, according to data from J.D. Power's Power Information Network(R) (PIN). During that period of time, vehicle appeal overall has significantly increased, and today's smaller vehicles are, in many cases, more appealing than the larger vehicles being replaced. In 2012, the average APEAL Study score for vehicles in the compact/sub-compact segment is 765 points (on a 1,000-point scale), which is the same as the average for mid vehicles in the study in 2008. Similarly, in 2012, the average APEAL Study score for vehicles in the mid premium segment is 844, the same as the average for large premium vehicles in 2008.

"For many years, almost twice as many vehicle owners have downd, compared with those who have upd," said Sargent. "Although larger models continue to attain higher APEAL Study scores than smaller models, as they typically provide higher performance, have more pleasing styling, are more comfortable and include more features, owners who down find that today's compact models are not the 'econoboxes' that they may have once feared. For example, most compact vehicles are more substantial than in the past and perform much better on the road. They also have many of the features and appointments that were previously found only on larger models. Vehicle owners who down are often finding that they are actually upgrading when they buy a new vehicle."

The downsizing trend also has an impact on owner satisfaction with the fuel economy of their new vehicle. While overall vehicle appeal continues to improve, increasing seven points year over year, the greatest improvement is in fuel economy. Furthermore, 47 percent of owners say gas mileage was one of the most important factors in choosing their new vehicle, up from 40 percent in 2011.

Model-Level and Nameplate Rankings
Chevrolet receives the highest number of segment awards of all brands included in the study for the Avalanche, Sonic and Volt models.

Seven brands each receive two model awards: Audi (for the A6 and A8); Dodge (Challenger and Charger); Ford (Expedition and Flex); Kia (Optima in a tie and Soul); MINI (Countryman and Coupe/Roadster); Nissan (Frontier and Quest); and Porsche (Cayenne and 911). The Audi A8 achieves the highest APEAL Study score of any model in the industry in 2012.

Also receiving awards are the BMW 3 Series; Infiniti QX56, Range Rover Evoque; Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class; and Volkswagen Passat in a tie.

Porsche is the highest-ranking nameplate for an eighth consecutive year. Dodge, Jaguar and Ram achieve the greatest year-over-year improvements, increasing scores by 21, 20 and 19 points, respectively.

J.D. Power offers the following tips to consumers when purchasing a new vehicle:
  • Have realistic expectations about the fuel economy of your vehicle, and remember that the city/highway/combined mileage ranges listed on the window sticker are merely estimates provided by the EPA. Your actual miles per gallon will vary due to many factors, including driving and weather conditions, driving style, tire inflation and the overall condition of your vehicle.
  • Know the type of fuel your prospective new vehicle requires, including premium unleaded or diesel, and take that into account when budgeting for it.
  • Before you buy, ask your salesperson to demonstrate all of the audio/entertainment/navigation features on the vehicle. Also, have them assist you in connecting your mobile device or portable audio player to the vehicle's communication system or audio interface in order to test for a good hands-free connection and to make sure the system recognizes your commands.
  • Although exterior styling is the highest-scoring category in the 2012 APEAL Study and often the most significant purchase reason for many buyers, consider all aspects of a vehicle to ensure that in addition to looking good to you, it also meets your needs. Some vehicles that look good may have design-related issues, such as being hard to see out of, or may not offer the cargo space you desire.
The APEAL Study examines how gratifying a new vehicle is to own and drive, based on owner evaluations of more than 80 vehicle attributes. The 2012 APEAL Study is based on responses gathered between February and May 2012 from more than 74,000 purchasers and lessees of new 2012 model-year cars and light trucks who were surveyed after the first 90 days of ownership. The APEAL Study complements the Initial Quality Study (IQS), which focuses on problems experienced by owners during the first 90 days of ownership.

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