Small is big as new-car buyers are finding they are getting just as much from compact cars as they got from the bigger vehicle they jettisoned for the new, smaller one, says J.D. Power and Associates' 2012 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.
The study, based on owner evaluations of more than 80 vehicle attributes that have to do with how pleasing a vehicle is, finds that 27% of new-vehicle buyers who replaced a vehicle purchased a new vehicle in a smaller segment. By contrast, only 13% of buyers “upsized,” and 60% bought a new vehicle in the same size segment as their previous vehicle.
David Sargent, VP of global automotive at J.D. Power and Associates, says that downsizing is easier because small vehicles are no longer econoboxes small on amenities and technology. “Automakers are heavily focused on providing the U.S. market with appealing smaller models, and buyers may be surprised at just how good some of them are.”
In 2012, the average APEAL Study score for vehicles in the compact/sub-compact segment is 765 points (on a 1,000-point scale), which is the same as the average for midsize vehicles in the study in 2008. Similarly, in 2012, the average APEAL Study score for vehicles in the midsize premium segment is 844, the same as the average for large premium vehicles in 2008.
While overall vehicle appeal has increased seven points year-over-year, the greatest improvement is in fuel economy, and J.D. Power says 47% of owners say gas mileage was one of the most important factors in choosing their new vehicle -- up from 40% in 2011.
Porsche, for the eighth consecutive year, is the highest-ranking nameplate with Dodge, Jaguar and Ram achieving the greatest year-over-year improvements, increasing scores by 21, 20 and 19 points, respectively. Chevrolet got the highest number of segment awards of all brands in the study, with the highest scores for the Avalanche, Sonic and Volt models.
Sargent tells Marketing Daily that in addition to the fact that automakers upgraded small cars so they have more high-end features, those smaller cars are also not as small as they used to be. "And things are different just in terms of the care with which they content the vehicles," he says.
He points out that while Chevrolet wins three awards, they are on relatively low-volume vehicles. "But Sonic [compact] was a little surprising because of other vehicles in that segment which are more unique. They did extremely well for a normal sub-compact car against vehicles like the Fiat 500, Smart and Scion iQ, which are more unusual and do a very good job of appealing to specific people."
Sargent says that the Fiat 500 performs very well in styling, fuel economy, and interior features. "It's in the more practical areas where Sonic performs well."