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March 01, 2016

Why Car Shoppers Walk Away: Because Looks Matter

Woman_starting_car-iStock_000024391129-dnbertyWhen consumers are in the market for a new car, how do they reject some models or choose the vehicles they ultimately purchase? This shopping behavior is what J.D. Power's U.S. Auto Avoider Study looks at annually.

Its just-released 2016 study has found that reliability concerns have increased in importance for the first time in nearly a decade, while concerns over fuel economy have decreased.

The new study looks at the shopping behavior among nearly 26,500 owners of new vehicles who purchased their vehicles in 2015. Now in its 13th year, the latest research found that looks do matter: 59 percent of consumers surveyed said exterior styling was the top reason they bought a particular model. It is also the top reason shoppers (31 percent) said they avoided a particular vehicle.

Woman_consdiering_car_purchase-iStock_000024331014-maurusoneAfter looks, the next two reasons shoppers avoided a particular vehicle were that, one: it was too expensive (18 percent); and, two: its interior styling wasn't appealing (18 percent).

After that, the perception of reliability is an important factor in the decision to avoid or purchase a vehicle. Of owners surveyed, 17 percent said their perception of reliability was a reason they did not consider certain models. This is up from 14 percent in last year's study. This concern has increased after five consecutive years of declining as an issue. Conversely, in this year's study, 55 percent cited reliability as a leading reason to purchase versus 51 percent in last year's study.

J.D. Power said it is likely that so many automotive recalls in the news is one reason for the increased concern. Another could be all the problems associated with the introduction of new technology, particularly telematics, in new vehicles, which have been plaguing owners. Study findings also showed that buyers who avoid models for reliability reasons tend to have concerns regarding resale value, cost of maintenance, and even safety.

And when it comes to reliability, J.D. Power found there remains what it called a "significant" disconnect between perception and reality when it comes to the reliability of domestic brands compared with European and Asian brands.

Sad_woman_looking_into_car-iStock_000061972572-WavebreakmediaIn the survey, 24 percent of shoppers said they avoided domestic models because of concerns about their reliability, whereas only 13 percent said they avoided European models for the same reason and 12 percent said they avoided Asian models over reliability concerns. In reality, J.D. Power said the actual reliability of most domestic models is competitive with that of imports.

The survey also found that car buyers aren't shopping around as much. Since 2012, new-vehicle buyers are considering fewer models and shopping fewer dealers. On average, shoppers physically shop only three models and then buy one of those.

Fuel economy has dropped as a frequently-cited reason consumers decide to purchase or reject a certain vehicle. Last year 55 percent of the consumers surveyed said it was a reason they bought a particular vehicle. In this year's study, only 51 percent cited it as a reason. As gas prices remain low, fuel economy has reached a five-year low as a reason to buy a specific model.

More than half (54 percent) of new-vehicle owners who replaced a vehicle bought the same brand or a brand from the same manufacturer, while 46 percent bought a vehicle from a different maker. Both buyers of premium and non-premium brands said their top reason for buying a different brand is that they "simply wanted to try something different."

Half (49 percent) of consumers who shopped on the Internet started the process knowing the exact brand or model they wanted and bought it. That has increased from 43 percent in 2013. Breaking that down into more detail, this year's study shows 33 percent knew the exact model they wanted and bought it and 16 percent said they knew the brand they wanted and purchased it.


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Cheryl-jensenBy Cheryl Jensen, for Motor Matters.

Cheryl began writing about the auto industry in 1996. Her reports have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Better Homes and Gardens magazine. She has covered rallies in South America, Australia, the 1992 Paris-Moscow-Beijing Raid, and in 1996 was the first American woman to finish the Dakar Rally. She has a bachelor's degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Cheryl resides in New Hampshire.

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