As if things weren't tough enough for Japanese automotive brands since the earthquake, it seems vehicles from brands like Toyota, Honda, and Nissan may face resistance from U.S. consumers for fear that parts won't be available, and tight supply will make the vehicles too expensive. But Japanese brands aren't alone. A number of people apparently think Korean brands will be affected, and that has to do with the fact that some Americans think Korean brands are actually Japanese.
In a new study by market research firm TNS, over 25% of U.S. consumers surveyed said they were less likely to buy an automotive brand from Japan or Korea since the catastrophe in March.
The reasons have to do with the perception that the price of vehicles and parts from these automakers will go up in tandem with their tighter supply. The firm says the biggest concerns involve the perception of parts availability, (46% of respondents). The next-biggest fear, noted by 37% of respondents, is that the disaster would lead to an overall increase in the price of Japanese vehicles, with about the same percentage feeling the same thing about the cost of parts. Twenty-seven percent said these concerns make them less likely to consider purchasing Japanese auto brands.
In the early-April survey, TNS and study partner Kantar asked people which auto brands they thought would be most impacted by the disaster. Sixty-three percent said Toyota would be the most impacted, followed by Honda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, and Mazda. But Korean brands Hyundai and Kia were mentioned by 21% of respondents.
William Bruno, VP of TNS, tells Marketing Daily that people are well aware of the situation, even if their facts are wrong. "What's interesting is the high level of awareness because the catastrophe is so highly publicized; we have had those strong visual impressions of cars floating around lots. Consumers have already fully formed opinions without the knowledge of the details of vehicle and parts availability. So this is more a snapshot of perception," he says.
For instance, in the study Korean brands are perceived to be more impacted than they actually have been, and domestics are perceived to have been less so. "Consumer perception of the impact on Japanese brands is more in line with reality," he says. As for the Korean brands, he says people who do own and have shopped for them are less likely than those who haven't to subscribe to skewed ideas about where Kias and Hyundais and their parts come from.
Bruno says automakers must not ignore the issue, whether they are affected or not. "The communications strategy needs to address this issue of confusion vis-à-vis sourcing," he says, adding that the onus shouldn't only be on the corporations. "It can't only come from the companies, it has to come from dealers," he says. "And those brands that have not been impacted by the disaster should be sure to reaffirm this with their target customers through advertising and dealer communications programs."