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Perception Trumps Reality for New-Car Buyers, Study Finds

January 31, 2012

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. — J.D. Power and Associates’ 2012 Avoider Study indicated that more than 40 percent of new-vehicle buyers who avoided a particular model due to quality or reliability concerns said they based their opinions on conventional wisdom or common knowledge rather than personal experience, reviews, ratings or recommendations.

The study, now in its ninth year, examines the reasons consumers fail to consider — or avoid — particular models when shopping for a new vehicle.

Perceptions of vehicle reliability have consistently been a prominent reason for avoiding a particular brand or model, according to J.D. Power and Associates. The study found that 43 percent of buyers who avoid a particular model due to concerns about quality and reliability said their avoidance was due to "the brand's vehicles, in general, are known to have poor quality/reliability."

Of those surveyed, 38 percent based their avoidance decision on ratings and reviews, while 14 percent based their decision on prior ownership of the model, according to the study.

"The fact that so many new-vehicle buyers may be basing their opinions about quality and reliability on pre-conceived notions, rather than concrete information or data, demonstrates how important it is for automakers to promote the quality and reliability of their models," said Jon Osborn, research director at J.D. Power and Associates.

According to Osborn, it's also important for consumers to challenge their perceptions about what they may think they know about the quality and reliability of a particular model. Although a brand or model may have had a poor reputation for quality or reliability in the past, actual quality or reliability performance may have improved since then.

The study found also that the percentage of buyers who avoided import models because of their origin increased to 14 percent in 2012, the highest level since the inception of the study in 2003, according to J.D. Power and Associates. The percentage of buyers who avoided domestic models due to their origin declined to 6 percent, a historically low level.

"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," Osborn said. "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."

The study found that gas mileage is the most influential reason for purchasing a particular vehicle model in 2012, surpassing the influence of other reasons such as reliability, the deal and exterior styling, which were the most influential purchase reasons in 2010.  With the emphasis of the importance of gas mileage affecting both the automotive market and consumer purchase decisions, the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf and Toyota Prius captured much attention from new-vehicle buyers.

For the Volt, the image the model portrays is a prominent reason for purchase, while buyers cited low maintenance costs for the Leaf and reliability for the Prius. Among buyers who avoided the Volt, purchase price was the most often cited reason, while the most prominent avoidance reason for the Leaf and Prius is exterior styling. For the Volt and Leaf, a notable proportion of buyers cited the models' small size as an avoidance reason. For the Prius, performance is a prominent reason for avoidance.

The 2012 Avoider Study — fielded between August and October 2011 — is based on responses from approximately 24,045 owners who registered a new vehicle in May 2011. J.D. Power and Associates last issued the Avoider Study in December 2010. For more information, visit www.jdpower.com.

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