Are You Loyal to Your Carmaker?

The largest bloc of our readers says who makes the auto is less important than getting a good value, and Detroit trails badly there

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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