Looking for Love?

Last week we asked the provocative question, "Do you love your refrigerator?"  The point was not silliness.  Instead the point was to show that Americans, in general, don't become emotionally attached to their appliances, but they do forge an emotional attachment to their cars.  In point of fact, Americans' love affairs with their cars have been well-documented, and because of that a cottage industry has grown to study that love affair and quantify it.

A San Diego County-based market research company called Strategic Vision Inc. (SVI) has been on the leading edge of this movement.  With the premise that it is far better to delight customers than simply satisfy them, it has created the Customer Delight study, which examines and indexes the degree to which owners love their vehicles.

Dr. Darrel Edwards, founder of Strategic Vision Inc., is crystal clear about his premise. "No matter how much you put into a product or how well you execute your plan, if you do not delight your customer, you have failed," he said. "In order to help product planners develop delightful vehicles that will address the needs and desires of customers, we created the Customer Delight measure that reflects both the rational and emotional aspects of customers' responses."
 
The Edwards Customer Delight Scale provides a comprehensive look at the product attributes and benefits that explicitly create "super-positive" delighted responses from the primary drivers of the vehicles. The index is calculated from the "top box" scores recorded for 110 product attribute/benefits versus the other responses recorded for the vehicles the respondents primarily drive.

That being said, just how do the various car manufacturers fare when it comes to getting their customers to register delight about their vehicles?  Well, if you buy the premise that delight is important, you can immediately see why imports are gaining overall market share versus the domestic manufacturers.  According to SVI, the Far Eastern (Japanese and Korean) and European imports dominated the car and SUV classes.

The Japanese manufacturers led in nine of 23 segments. But a surprise was that quality stalwart and acknowledged leader Toyota (with a corporation CDI of 517) remained below the threshold (Industry average = 529) in delighting their customers. Arch rival Honda, on the other hand, (with a corporation CDI of 555) held its ground.  The Honda Odyssey minivan (CDI = 539) and Honda Element small SUV (CDI = 597) were segment winners.

If there was a bright spot for the domestics it was in pickup trucks.  The domestic manufacturers led all segments with the new revitalized Ford F-150 (CDI = 643) garnering a stellar 189-point boost in its CDI score. The improvements are also reflected in the larger Ford-250/350 (CDI = 554), leading the segment.  The Chevrolet Colorado mid-size pickup entered the market with a CDI = 539 in a segment that has an average CDI = 431. It is in a class that has room for improvements, but it made a strong entry.

For those of you who class yourself as rugged individualists, you have company.  The Kia Amanti (635) has been less than a sales success but its owners love it, giving it the title among mid-size cars.  Meanwhile the Volkswagen Phaeton, another sales disappointment, received the highest score on the 2004 Delight Index with a CDI of 800.

Jack R. Nerad is the Managing Editor of Driving Today.