New Has Big APEAL, Says J.D. Power

New-vehicle buyers like vehicles that are new.  That is one conclusion to be drawn from the J.D. Power and Associates 2005 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study that was just released, and while that seems like a no-brainer, it's really not.  Why?  Because the automotive market is filled with vehicles that aren't really new; instead, these so-called carry-over vehicles are virtually identical to the models that preceded them save for a new color, perhaps, or a new piece of standard equipment.  But the APEAL study makes it clear that if you want to win the hearts of new-vehicle buyers then you better come out with something all-new.

So what is APEAL anyway?  In an industry that is filled with studies of things gone wrong and problems per hundred vehicles, APEAL is an effort by J.D. Power and Associates to measure "things gone right."  In the company's words, the study "measures owners' delight with the design, content, layout and performance of their new vehicles."

If this is the case, owners seem to be getting more and more delighted with their cars.  Overall industry APEAL has increased annually for the past nine years, and J.D. Power attributes that, in large part, to the continual introduction of a large number of all-new and redesigned models.  In 2005 for example, the market included more than 50 all-new or redesigned models, up from 43 in 2004.

What excites and delights buyers the most?  Apparently looking good still trumps feeling good.  Styling and exterior design continue to be most important to new-vehicle buyers when it comes to APEAL, but features dealing with the vehicle's interior, such as seats and comfort/convenience, have increased in importance over the past five years.

On the brand level, the vehicles that most delight their owners come from (in descending order) Porsche, Land Rover, Lexus, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz.  Infiniti, BMW, Hummer, Cadillac and Audi round out the top 10.  At the other end of the scale, the brands that least excite their owners are (from the bottom up) Saturn, Suzuki, Subaru (obviously "S" names are undelightful), Jeep, Hyundai and Chevrolet.
Perhaps a better way to look at the study, however, is to examine the vehicles that led their respective segments in APEAL.  Here it is obvious that all-new is a ticket to ride, because all-new or redesigned models such as the Pontiac G6, Toyota Avalon, Lexus GS 300/GS 430, Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Corvette, Honda Ridgeline, Kia Sportage, Lexus RX 400h and Honda Odyssey each ranked highest in its respective segment.  The non-new vehicles that also topped segment rankings were the MINI Cooper, Kia Amanti, Lexus IS 300/IS 300 SportCross, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Lexus LS 430, Cadillac Escalade EXT, GMC Sierra HD, Nissan Murano, Nissan Armada, Land Rover Range Rover and Chevrolet Express.

The 2005 APEAL Study was based on responses from more than 115,000 new-vehicle owners who were surveyed during the first 90 days of ownership. Eight categories of vehicle performance and design are measured to assess buyer satisfaction, including: engine/transmission; ride, handling and braking; comfort/convenience; seats; cockpit/instrument panel; heating, ventilation and cooling; sound system; and styling/exterior.

Driving Today Contributing Editor Tom Ripley writes about the human condition and the auto industry from his home in Villeperce, France.