Dave Sargent, VP of automotive research at the firm, says the eight most-improved brands in the study this year are domestics, "which is very unusual and demonstrates that domestics are catching up on imports on APEAL and IQS," he says.
According to Sargent, this year's APEAL (Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout) study saw the industry sink two points in how well it is pleasing consumers. Fuel economy is the culprit, he says.
The study slices and dices responses from 78,500 new-vehicle owners to get what they like and dislike about the vehicles they have owned for 90 days. It also complements the firm's IQS study, which measures vehicle problems discovered by new owners.
The results have a direct relationship to how likely a vehicle owner is going to be to recommend a car or truck, says Sargent. "For vehicles that perform well on both IQS and APEAL studies, 76% of owners recommend them, versus 66% for vehicles that are below average on both."
Another surprise in the study, performed between November and January: Completely redesigned vehicles did worse than vehicles that were merely refreshed. "That's the first time we've seen that happen. It is a major change in the industry," Sargent says.
Many domestic divisions saw big gains. Cadillac improved by 9 points, driven almost entirely by the redesigned CTS car. General Motors also gained major improvements because of its line of crossover vehicles: GMC also improved by 10 points because of its Acadia crossover, which constitutes 30% of GMC sales this year, per Sargent. Sibling Buick is most improved brand in the industry--up 20 points, driven entirely by the Enclave crossover. That vehicle also won the J.D. Power APEAL award in its segment.
Saturn improved 10 points because of the Outlook crossover, per Sargent. Even Hummer, whose fate GM is mulling, saw improvements. The only division that did not get a boost was Pontiac--down 25 points because it has no new vehicles this year that the APEAL study gauged (the new Pontiac Vibe wagon will be in next year's study, per Sargent).
Sargent says Ford improved 14 points, driven by the Ford Focus car--moving up 88 points to be the single most improved vehicle in the industry in J.D. Power's study. Mercury also improved 12 points.
Chrysler was the second-most improved brand--up 19 points, driven by the Town and Country minivan. Chrysler's Dodge division improved 10 points, driven by the Grand Caravan.
Among imports, Honda slid 12 points because of the Civic and the Honda CRV. "Both launched well, but are now in their second or third years in the market," says Sargent, adding that the vehicles account for 45% of Honda sales. Nissan slid by 13 points, because of the Altima's length of time in the market.
"It did well last year, and is a third of Nissan's total sales." Hyundai is down by 19 points, because the Elantra has been in the market over a year; Sonata has been in the market for two-plus, and "was impacted by the introduction of Honda Accord and Chevy Malibu making Sonata slightly less attractive than it had been in past," he says.