Are You Loyal to Your Carmaker?


Americans still would prefer to buy cars made by U.S. companies. Yet their views on which manufacturers offer the best styling, quality, safety, and price make it increasingly difficult for them to follow their hearts.

That's one of the conclusions that jumps out from our July 3 Reader Survey. Just over 42% of the nearly 1,300 people who participated in this survey -- which was unscientific, since anyone who wished to take it could -- said they would prefer to buy a car from a U.S.-headquartered company, vs. the 14% who said they'd rather buy Japanese and the 31% who said they don't care where the manufacturer is located.

However, 63% said that when they buy their next vehicle, they'll base the decision on a combination of factors -- styling, quality and safety, price, and the manufacturer. If that's true, it explains why U.S. car companies are facing a steeper uphill battle than ever before (see BW Cover Story, 7/15/02, "Autos: A New Industry").

EUROPE FOR SAFETY. When asked whose cars have the best styling, for instance, 54% of those who responded chose European carmakers, and 22% picked the Japanese, vs. the 21% who chose American manufacturers.

On quality, some 71% see the Japanese as best, vs. 19% for European carmakers and a dismal 9% for U.S. manufacturers.

U.S. cars do better on safety, where nearly 24% of those who participated give them credit for being tops, vs. 23% for the Japanese. Yet most people -- 51% -- think the Europeans have the safest cars.

The Japanese offer the best price for comparably-equipped cars, according to 44% of the respondents, vs. 31% who chose U.S. models and the 22% who chose Korean cars.

WHAT'S "FOREIGN"? Asked to choose the best overall deal on the market today, an overwhelming 62.5% of the respondents picked Japanese models, with U.S. models a distant second at 21%, and European models third at 11.5%.

Interestingly, 42% of those who participated regard cars that are built in America by non-U.S. producers as foreign cars. But that apparent advantage for Detroit disappeared when people were asked about their attitudes toward which manufacturer they would rather buy from now, vs. five years ago. Some 40% said the nationality of the manufacturer doesn't matter to them -- and 29% said they're less inclined than ever to buy a car from a U.S. company.

Perhaps that isn't surprising, given that 51% of those who replied said they currently own a foreign model, vs. the 29% who own a U.S. model and the 18% who own both.

The bottom line for Detroit is: Read it and weep -- and if you're going to do anything about car-buyer attitudes, better start soon.

Here are the complete results of the survey:

Among auto makers selling cars in the U.S. now, which country's do you think deliver the best styling?

Option

Total

%

U.S.

265

21.00 %

Japanese

281

22.27 %

European

682

54.04 %

Korean

22

1.74 %

Other

12

0.95 %

Which do you think deliver the best quality?

Option

Total

%

U.S.

111

8.82 %

Japanese

894

71.01 %

European

235

18.67 %

Korean

14

1.11 %

Other

5

0.40 %

Which do you think deliver the best safety?

Option

Total

%

U.S.

300

23.9 %

Japanese

289

23.03 %

European

641

51.08 %

Korean

10

0.80 %

Other

15

1.20 %

Which do you think offer the best price for comparably equipped models?

Option

Total

%

U.S.

386

30.66 %

Japanese

556

44.16 %

European

33

2.62 %

Korean

280

22.24 %

Other

4

0.32 %

Taking into account styling, quality, safety, and price, which do you think provides the best overall value in today's market?

Option

Total

%

U.S.

265

21.02 %

Japanese

788

62.49 %

European

146

11.58 %

Korean

56

4.44 %

Other

6

0.48 %

All other things being equal, when you buy a car would you prefer to buy one from a company that is headquartered in:

Option

Total

%

U.S.

537

42.45 %

Japan

177

13.99 %

Europe

147

11.62 %

Korea

10

0.79 %

Other

2

0.16 %

Doesn't matter

392

30.99 %

When you shop for a vehicle, do you check out where it was made -- i.e., look up its percentage of "North American content?"

Option

Total

%

Yes

454

36.18 %

No

801

63.82 %

Do you regard foreign models that are built by Americans in U.S. factories as:

Option

Total

%

Domestic

299

23.67 %

Foreign

533

42.2 %

Neither

129

10.21 %

Both

231

18.29 %

Not sure

71

5.62 %

Compared with your attitude five years ago, are you:

Option

Total

%

More determined than ever to buy a car only from a U.S. company

146

11.55 %

Still inclined primarily to buy from a U.S. company, but more willing than before to consider alternatives

186

14.72 %

Doesn't matter who makes it if I like it

500

39.56 %

Less inclined than ever to buy a car only from a U.S. company

370

29.27 %

No opinion

62

4.91 %

What make(s) do you currently own?

Option

Total

%

U.S.

367

28.97 %

Foreign

648

51.14 %

Both

227

17.92 %

Neither

25

1.97 %

When you buy your next vehicle, will you make your decision based predominantly on:

Option

Total

%

Styling

50

3.94 %

Quality and safety

208

16.4 %

Price

52

4.10 %

The manufacturer

142

11.2 %

All of the above

799

63.01 %

Not sure

17

1.34 %


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