J.D. Power's APEAL Study Puts Honda At Top Of Heap

Honda took top ranking in four model segments in J.D. Power & Associates' 2007 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) study.

The yearly study measures consumers' opinions of their new cars and trucks based on their responses to design, content, layout and performance. The new study follows on the heels of the consultancy's Initial Quality Study (IQS), in which Ford, Hyundai, Honda and others took top positions in various vehicle segments.

Among the highest-scoring vehicles in their segments, based on a 1,000-point scale, are Honda's Fit, CR-V, Ridgeline and Odyssey minivan, Ford's Mustang and Edge crossover; Nissan's Altima sedan and Armada, which rank highest in full-sized SUVs for the fourth consecutive year, VW's Jetta and GTI cars. Among luxury cars, BMW's 3-Series, 6-Series and X5, and Mercedes-Benz' E-Class, S-Class and GL-Class won in their vehicle segments.

Porsche is the highest-ranking nameplate in APEAL for a third consecutive year. The most improved nameplate in the 2007 study is Scion.



The study is based on responses gathered between February and May from more than 91,000 purchasers and lessees of new 2007 model-year cars and trucks who were surveyed after the first 90 days of ownership.

Joe Ivers, executive director of quality research at the consultancy, says Ford, several of whose vehicles ranked high in the consultancy's IQS earlier this year, managed to take top rank in both the IQS and APEAL with its Edge crossover.

Ivers says that, although IQS and APEAL measures don't overlap or necessarily track each other--i.e., if a vehicle does well in IQS, it won't necessarily do well in APEAL--consumer expectations mean that it is more and more incumbent upon automakers to do well in both IQS and APEAL. "When we started doing APEAL, we had plenty of evidence that there were two types of customers: those who wanted vehicles that were problem-free and those who wanted more expressive, delightful vehicles and, to some degree, would put up with problems to get that," he says.

"Then along came Lexus, which demonstrated that you could have both; that complicated things," Ivers says.

"There was time when Mercedes was category leader for durability, then it developed vehicles that were very attractive, highly styled, technology-leading, but had lost a focus on quality." He says Mercedes is back in quality leadership; the S-Class is the single highest-scoring vehicle from APEAL's standpoint by a large margin. BMW's 7-Series is in second place. Honda's CR-V compact SUV is another vehicle that won in both IQS and APEAL.

Ten of the vehicles topping their respective segments were also new or redesigned this year. The Nissan Armada ranks highest in its segment for a fourth consecutive year. Several models, including the Ford Mustang, Honda Ridgeline and Honda Odyssey, rank highest in their respective segments for a third consecutive year, while the Hyundai Azera and Porsche Cayman earn awards for a second consecutive year. The Mustang and Mercedes-Benz E-Class also rank highest in their segments in both the APEAL study and IQS.

But several vehicles manage to stay high on the list despite being longer in the tooth. "The poster child for that is Mustang," says Ivers. "It's in its third year, and, typically, when a vehicle swings for the fences, it tends to do it out of the gate. Ordinarily, when a vehicle gets second, third, fourth, fifth year, it's commonly seen as yesterday's news."

But Mustang's score has actually gotten better since last year, according to Ivers, partly because Ford continually offers limited-edition models, such as the forthcoming Shelby Cobra version, that "add another layer of adrenaline, so even though sales volume for these vehicles isn't great, they wind up having a disproportionate affect on appeal ratings."

Others that have demonstrated staying power: Mercedes E-class, which is tops in its segment for the fourth year; Nissan's Armada, which competes versus Ford's new, and briskly selling, Expedition SUV; and three GM vehicles, which have improved more than 20 points each over previous GM full-sized SUVs.

"After Armada, it's essentially a five-way tie, but there's half the distance in points between second place and fifth place as there is between first and second in that segment, so Armada leads by a wide margin," Ivers says.

According to the study, models with higher APEAL scores sell with lower incentives, which might be self-evident. The consultancy says that, on average, owners of vehicles with APEAL scores lower than 800 report receiving dealer incentives of approximately $2,000. For purchasers of models with average APEAL scores higher than 800, the incentive amount can decline by up to 10%.

Ivers says the inverse relationship between APEAL scores and incentives doesn't testify to the power of the J.D. Power name or marketers' use of J.D. Power's logo or imagery in advertising. "In my frank assessment, it's the vehicle itself," he says. "It reflects upon the engagement of exterior styling and vehicle layout."

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