The automotive industry achieves a three-year high in appeal for new and redesigned models, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2009 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study released July 16. Seven of these models have received segment-level awards.
In 2009, the APEAL score for all-new and redesigned models averages 790 on a 1,000-point scale-11 points higher than in 2008 and 15 points higher than the 2009 score for carryover models. In addition, seven all-new and redesigned models rank highest in their respective segments, including the Dodge Challenger, Ford F-150 (in a tie), Ford Flex, Hyundai Genesis, Nissan Maxima, Volkswagen CC and Volkswagen Tiguan.
"Most automakers are on track in terms of designing new models that are highly appealing," said David Sargent, vice president of automotive research at J.D. Power and Associates. "The greater challenge for manufacturers lies in creating models that launch with both strong appeal and high quality, which ultimately lead to improved sales through greater customer loyalty and advocacy."
Throughout the years, vehicle models achieving high APEAL scores have been shown to benefit from faster sales, less need for cash incentives and higher profit margins on each vehicle sold.
The average APEAL score for all models in 2009 has improved considerably to 779 from 770 in 2008, driven primarily by increased owner satisfaction with fuel economy. This higher satisfaction comes from three main sources. First, fuel prices have decreased significantly during the past year, which has reduced owner concerns about gas mileage. Second, owners are switching to more fuel-efficient vehicles-in 2009, more than one-half of all vehicles included in the study are powered by four-cylinder engines, compared with just 39 percent in 2008. Third, automakers are designing models to be more fuel efficient than their predecessors.
"Although lower fuel prices and the switch to smaller vehicles have undoubtedly helped, there are also many individual vehicles that have made strong improvements in fuel economy ratings," said Sargent. "For example, the Ford F-150, Cadillac Escalade, Volkswagen Jetta and redesigned Dodge Ram have all made major strides in owner satisfaction with fuel economy through the introduction of more efficient powertrains."
In 2009, domestic brands comprise the four most-improved nameplates. Dodge posts the largest improvement, followed by Pontiac, Buick and Cadillac, respectively. In addition, the three most-improved models are from domestic manufacturers, including the Dodge Ram, Buick Lucerne and Ford F-150.
"Consumers have a great array of appealing vehicles to choose from by both domestic and import brands," said Sargent.
The overall gap in APEAL scores between domestic and import models has narrowed considerably during the past several years and is just five index points in 2009, compared with 15 points in 2008 and 27 points in 2007. Among premium models, import nameplates retain a slight edge, while among non-premium models, domestic brands have a similar edge.