Buyers Move Away From Small Cars Or Any Cars

Last year had at least one bright spot in the car industry: small cars. But with gasoline prices way down, consumers may head back to larger vehicles. Chicago-based marketing firm Mintel has a new survey in hand, suggesting that the shift may have been too much for some. The firm's survey found that only half of small car-buying respondents (51%) felt "extremely happy" with their purchases. By contrast, 80% of all new-vehicle buyers felt that way about their purchase (regardless of vehicle type).

Mark Guarino, senior analyst at Mintel, says the problem is a lack of amenities that one finds in larger vehicles, such as surround-sound stereo and heated seats. "The transition from expensive, gas-hogging SUV to cheaper, fuel-efficient compact will feel like less of a sacrifice if the smaller car offers similar luxury features," he says.

Not surprisingly, fuel economy drove the small-car purchase decision, per Mintel, which says 79% of respondents who purchased small cars say they selected their current vehicle because of gas mileage.



But not all traded down from a larger vehicle. The firm says 42% of small car owners bought their vehicles to replace similar-sized vehicles in the same category.

Consumer Reports says its new survey shows that buyers have shifted from "want" to "need." The 2009 Auto Brand Perception Survey, by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, was a random nationwide telephone survey taken Dec. 4-8. The respondents were 1,745 adults whose households has at least one car.

The survey found that 42% of new-vehicle shoppers are putting off a purchase. Also, 39% of respondents are holding off because their vehicles are in good shape; 30% are doing so because vehicles are too expensive; and 30% are holding off because they are skittish about the economy. Eighteen percent are waiting for fuel-saving technologies like hybrids to become more affordable, and another group of 18% are balking at interest rates for financing. A quarter of shoppers in low-income households are delaying because of financing rates.

The company also queried respondents on which brands lead in seven factors: design and style, performance, quality, safety, technology and innovation, and value. In rank order, Toyota, Honda, Ford, Cadillac, and Mercedes-Benz dominated overall scores for brand perception.

Toyota and Honda were the highest and also led in quality, value, and environmental friendliness. Of the seven factors, respondents said safety was most important, with Volvo and Ford leading. Quality was next with Toyota and Honda leading. Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac were also in the top five for quality, per the firm. Toyota also owns the green moniker for its Prius car, with Honda next in line.

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