The automakers released their 2012 lines a few months age, and we were curious to see how they have been received by affluent consumers. While we didn’t look at specific models, our most recent study provides a good view into how well-heeled buyers feel about the leading brands. What it shows is that the average consideration of the 22 major brands studied dropped from 15% in 2010 to just 11% in the fourth quarter of 2011. This loss reflects a decline that has lasted most of 2011. For some brands the impact has been dramatic. However, as you’ll see, there are also some brands that are performing very well.
Major losses in brand consideration (year-over-year) among affluent consumers included Ford, down 21 percentage points; Nissan and Toyota, each down 13 points, and Honda, down 12.
The picture was even grimmer for nine brands that saw decreases of 20% or more in consideration this quarter over last: VW, Mazda, Honda, Nissan, Lincoln, Toyota, Subaru, Hyundai and Ford.
This is a major – and troubling – shift for major brands that typically see consideration in the 20-30% range. The news isn’t all doom and gloom though. Five brands did see increases in consideration. Interestingly, in today’s challenging economic climate, strong quarter-over-quarter growth was seen among some of the luxury brands: Acura, up 82%; Mercedes, up 38%; Porsche, up 36%; Audi, up 35%, and BMW, up 33%.
The shift among affluents to the more recognized luxury brands may reflect their renewed optimism in the economy, a growing separation between the haves and have-nots, or simply that high-income affluents are returning to their roots – where money is no object.
Another question that piqued our curiosity was what aspects of an automotive brand matter most to affluent shoppers. In the fourth quarter, four key attributes rose to the top for the fastest growing brands among affluents: quality, reputation, reliability and customer service. Here are the brands that performed best in each of these areas:
Reputation, third quarter vs. fourth quarter
Mercedes -- 30%, 37%
Acura -- 29%, 35%
Quality, third quarter vs. fourth quarter
BMW -- 54%, 59%
Acura -- 55%, 58%
Reliability, third quarter vs. fourth quarter
Dodge -- 18%, 42%
Porsche -- 19%, 42%
(While Dodge may not be viewed some as a luxury brand by some, among affluents it received high recognition for its reliability.)
Customer Service, third quarter vs. fourth quarter
Audi -- 1%, 18%
Porsche -- 6%, 40%
With affluents representing disproportionate number of new car buyers (approx. 1 in 3 will buy a car this year), they cannot be overlooked or overanalyzed by carmakers looking to grow in 2012. Understanding what makes affluents tick, why brands resonate with them and what aspects of a vehicle matter most will help advertisers deliver compelling messages throughout 2012 and beyond. Cutting through the clutter to deliver messages that matter – and will be shared among affluent audiences – needs to be a key for luxury automakers looking to continue the increase of consideration for their brands.