Consumers Key "Green" Attributes Into Value

Traditionally, drivers covet vehicles that look great, function flawlessly and say nice things about their owners…and these days you can add another series of attributes, too, all revolving around the environment. Today’s American consumer is more environmentally oriented than ever, and, in an effort to reflect that, Strategic Vision, a California-based market research firm has unveiled the new SmartGreen Index (SGI.) The index points out the relationships between perceived quality plus overall value (the “smart” part of the equation) and green issues, such as fuel economy and environmental friendliness.

Frankly, there are a number of surprises on the list. Vehicles such as the Land Rover LR2, Corvette, Kia Amanti and Chrysler 300C are not usually thought of as green. In fact, some are considered to be the antithesis of eco-conscious, but they still scored higher than others in their respective segments when it comes to the SmartGreen Index. An important aspect of the index is the reflection of emotional attachment between owner and vehicle. According to the research firm, the vehicles that rank high on the SmartGreen Index are the ones that customers love, and are emotionally connected to,  and that provide the best green-related issues in class.

“When customers do not have to compromise their desired vehicle styling, roominess, power and price to obtain the best fuel economy and environmentally friendliness in class, they have made the SmartGreen choice,” said Alexander Edwards, president of Strategic Vision’s automotive division.

So which brands and models score well on the SGI? Since customers are increasingly seeking the attributes that combine to constitute the index, it is no surprise that the brands with the highest number of segment leaders on the index are Toyota and Honda (with five and four leaders, respectively). Toyota’s leaders are the Yaris Hatchback, Prius, Highlander Hybrid (tie), 4Runner and Tundra (tie), while Honda’s leaders are the Accord Coupe, Odyssey, CR-V and Ridgeline. Toyota’s Lexus luxury division also has two segment leaders: the IS 250/350 and the RX400 Hybrid.

While you might guess that having a hybrid power train would give a vehicle a strong leg up on the index, being a hybrid vehicle alone is not enough to guarantee top SmartGreen marks. Interestingly, some hybrids place at or below segment average in SGI when factors such as interior quality or overall perceived value are rated below their competition. While the Toyota Prius may be the obvious SGI leader because of its fuel economy, one shouldn’t forget that the Prius also offers innovative interior styling that adds to making it the SmartGreen choice.

“Even when fuel prices are highest, people will want more than a little box with good fuel economy,” said Chris Chaney, vice president of special projects at Strategic Vision. “For example, the Mazda3 leads in its segment ahead of the hybrids, offering superior styling, innovation, performance and affordability coupled with good fuel economy, offering more than competitive hybrids.”

Among the domestic brands, Chevrolet had the most segment leaders with the Tahoe, Avalanche (tie) and Corvette Convertible leading their respective segments. The Tahoe scored high in perceived quality, as did its competition. However, the Tahoe was rated exceptionally higher than the competition in eco-friendliness and fuel efficiency. The MINI Cooper Clubman and Convertible were leaders in their segments due to terrific performance, overall value and green-related issues. The MINI Cooper Hatchback scored just below the MINI Cooper Clubman, with both vehicles taking the top places in Specialty Coupes. The BMW 3 Series Coupe was also a leader in its segment. Other best-in-class SGI leaders were the Kia Amanti, Nissan Murano (tie), Audi Q7 and Mercedes S-Class for their excellence in quality, styling, performance and greenness.

Buyers rated the following vehicles as tops in their segments:

Small Car

 

Mazda3 Sedan

 

697

Small Multi-Function (MFV)

Toyota Yaris Hatchback

725

Mid-Size Car

Toyota Prius

749

Large Car

Kia Amanti

707

Near-Luxury Car

Lexus IS 250/350

765

Luxury Car

Mercedes S-Class

771

Specialty Coupe

MINI Cooper Clubman

751

Premium Coupe

BMW 3-Series Coupe

729

Mid-Specialty Coupe

Honda Accord Coupe

686

Convertible

MINI Cooper Convertible

719

Premium Convertible

Chevrolet Corvette Convertible

782

Minivan

Honda Odyssey

688

Small SUV

Honda CR-V

644

Medium Crossover

Nissan Murano / Toyota Highlander Hybrid

649 / 649

Medium SUV

Toyota 4Runner

664

Large SUV

Chevrolet Tahoe

641

Near-Luxury SUV

Lexus RX 400 Hybrid

742

Luxury SUV

Audi Q7

711

Standard Pickup

Honda Ridgeline

602

Large Pickup

Chevrolet Avalanche/Toyota Tundra

630 / 628

SGI is calculated from responses of 44,320 buyers who bought 2008/9 models from September 2007 to March 2008.