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How two conflicting auto surveys explain the cars we buy

Posted by Bill Griffith  December 15, 2010 02:33 PM

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"Survey says" was the line used for years by host Richard Dawson on the TV game show "Family Feud."

69 percent of buyers who traded in a domestic vehicle purchased another. For imported vehicles, it was 90 percent.

Now there seems to be no end to what the automotive reports and surveys are saying. We got a chuckle recently when J.D. Power and Associates and Kelley Blue Book, two of the big automotive survey-takers, issued reports with seemingly conflicting results, a situation that shows some of the realities of brand loyalty and resale values when it comes to our buying choices.

Last month, Kelly Blue Book issued the 2011 model-year winners of its annual Best Resale Value Awards, a compilation of both current values and the projected values for new cars five years from now. That survey said that depreciation (projected resale value) typically is a car-buyer's primary expense.

This month, J.D. Power published its 2010 Customer Retention Study, saying that new-vehicle owners are citing "fun-to-drive vehicles" as a top reason to remain loyal to their brand, while shifting away from expected resale value as a primary loyalty reason.

Appreciating the depreciating

The Kelley study on resale values states that a new car typically will retain 34 percent of its original value after five years.

Interestingly, it also said that most options and packages don't necessarily increase the resale value. Exceptions to this are a high-performance engine or performance package in a sporty car.

Regional preferences, however, can impact values. Kelley's study noted that, in northern areas, four-wheel and all-wheel-drive will have higher values than two-wheel-drive versions of the same model. Similarly, dark-colored vehicles will have less value in hot-weather markets.

"Consumers should include projected resale value in researching their next new-vehicle purchase," said KBB's James Bell, in a press release.

Here are KBB's top 10 cars, in alphabetical order, with the best resale value: Audi A5, BMW X5, BMW X6, Honda CR-V, Jeep Wrangler, Lexus GX, Lexus RX, Subaru Outback, Toyota FJ Cruiser, Toyota Tacoma.

Stand by your brand

Customer retention is vital to a brand's success. For the past two model years, 48 percent of buyers have stayed with the same brand for their next new vehicle purchase. Next in line is "conquests," those buyers captured from competing brands.

"Now that economic and market conditions have improved somewhat, vehicle owners are increasingly citing emotional, rather than practical, reasons for staying with their vehicle brand or switching to a different one," said Raffi Festekjian, director of automotive product research at J.D. Power and Associates, in a press release.

This year Ford and Honda tied for first place with 62 percent retention rates. There was a three-way tie for third place among Hyundai, Lexus, and Toyota. Rounding out the Top 10 were 6. Mercedes-Benz (59 percent); 7. Kia (58); 8. Subaru (57); 9. Nissan (54); and 10. BMW (53).

According to the survey, Ford's retention was driven by the Edge, F-Series trucks, and Fusion models. Honda's can be credited to the Accord, CR-V, and Pilot.

Overall, 69 percent of buyers who traded in a domestic vehicle purchased another domestic vehicle. For imported vehicles, that number was 90 percent.

"While import brands still have higher customer conquest rates than domestic brands, the gap is beginning to narrow," said Festekjian. "In recent years, domestic brands have achieved parity or surpassed imports in [J.D. Power surveys of] initial quality and new-vehicle appeal, and customer perceptions of these nameplates seem to be evolving accordingly."

Or, abandon it

A "bad rap" is tough to overcome, according to another J.D. Power and Associates report. This the company's 2010 Avoider Study, a survey of consumers' perceptions of reliability. It shows Ford, GMC, Hyundai, Kia, and Ram have improved customer perceptions of reliability. Also improving were Audi, Scion, and Smart.

For Audi, those perceptions were reflected in its sales Tuesday when it sold its 93,507th vehicle of this year, breaking its 2007 record and putting it on course to reach 100,000 for the year.

J.D. Power found that exterior styling is the number one reason buyers avoid a brand, followed by cost, perception of reliability, interior styling, and bad manufacturer reputation.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
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AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
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Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
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George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
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