U.S. Car Buyers Want Reliability, Not Fuel Economy

Durability, reliability, comfort and performance rank higher than fuel efficiency.

According to a JD Power and Associates survey issued Oct. 4, U.S. car buyers are more interested in reliability than fuel-efficiency. The survey reports that only one-third of respondents to its annual survey on auto trends considered miles per gallon as the biggest factor when buying a new car. And 61% said their key concerns in an auto purchase were durability and reliability. Styling, comfort and performance all ranked higher than gasoline mileage.

Fuel economy is simply not the top attribute for new vehicles," said Tom Libby, senior director of industry analysis at JD Power. He noted high fuel prices had only risen up the agenda in the past couple of years, as global crude markets have surged and as hurricanes last year pummeled U.S. gasoline production. Also, he said, all U.S. vehicles including SUVs have become much more fuel-efficient than the thirsty cars of three decades ago, while car prices in real terms have been stable or even fallen over that period.

But America is not falling in love with the small cars that are all the rage in Europe, the survey found. Buyers still want roomy vehicles capable of holding six passengers, and are switching instead to "crossover" utility vehicles (CUV) -- SUVs based on the chassis of a car rather than a light truck.

"Crossovers are a growing trend within the industry. They're a sweet spot in the market," Libby said "Unfortunately for Detroit's embattled carmakers, CUVs have a downside. They are just not as profitable as their big brothers," he noted.

Also unfortunately for GM and Ford, Japanese carmakers such as Toyota rank consistently higher in surveys on the reliability issues that JD Power identified as buyers' top concern.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006

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