February 12, 2003

Consumers believe SUV criticism is ‘hype’ says survey

Irvine, California – A New Vehicle-Buyer Attitude Study on SUVs conducted by Kelly Blue Book shows that more than half of respondents feel the negative press around SUVs is hype and more than 70 percent felt that groups criticizing SUVs ignored the vehicle’s positive aspects. The study was conducted by Kelley Blue Book (KBB), a U.S. publication of used and new car information.

Journalist Arianna Huffington and activist group Earth Liberation Front, have said that SUV owners are making the United States oil-dependent and creating unsafe highways, and in extreme cases — claiming consumers purchasing SUVs support terrorism. Other statements imply that SUV drivers are vain, self-absorbed and have little interest in their community.

The Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Jeffrey W. Runge, urged consumers in a Jan. 15 speech to ‘educate themselves’ before purchasing these rollover prone vehicles.

The Kelley Blue Book study shows six out of 10 shoppers still feel positively toward SUVs and of those considering an SUV the number rises to eight out of 10.

Currently, large utility vehicles account for most of the manufacturer’s annual earnings. The negative comments have auto manufacturers worried that consumer demand for the SUVs would decline. While sales of SUVs declined one-tenth of a percent in January, analysts say the drop is minor in comparison to the overall decline in vehicle sales last month.

When it comes to the attitudes of current car shoppers, survey results show that manufacturers have little to worry about at this time. Based on the study results, rollover statements made by Runge may be the only issue reaching consumers. The Kelley Blue Book study shows shoppers rank rollovers as their No.1 concern in purchasing an SUV. Four out of 10 surveyed say that concerns of rollovers could even keep them from buying an SUV, yet more than half rate the vehicles high for safety.

“We have not seen an effect on SUV values or sales due to recent news. Any effect thus far can be attributed to uncertainty in the economy,” said Charlie Vogelheim, Executive Editor, Kelley Blue Book. “We do expect to see a drop among larger SUVs but attribute the decline to market saturation as well as the growth and popularity of crossover vehicles, not necessarily criticism or hype.”

The other issues appear to have been dismissed by in-market car-buyers. Kelley Blue Book survey respondents, who represent the opinions of one out of every four new car-buyers in America, disagree with the assertion that SUV drivers are vain and have little interest in their community. Results show the No. 1 attribute assigned to SUV drivers is “family oriented” with “safety oriented” coming in at number three out of 12 attributes. Few shoppers believe SUV drivers are selfish or irresponsible.

With the looming possibility of war, oil dependency issues have become a major topic in the press, but those currently shopping for SUVs ranked environmental concerns and oil dependency issues last among their concerns in buying an SUV. In-market car-buyers understand SUVs are less fuel efficient than compact vehicles, however it does not appear to be a deterrent to purchase.

“America saw a major decline in vehicle sales and values during 1991s Gulf War. We expect to see similar trends and a drop in SUV values should we go to war in coming weeks,” said Vogelheim.

The issue of terrorism arose in the press through journalist Huffington, as well as activist group Earth Liberation Front (ELF). The ELF organization, religious groups and Hollywood celebrities link gas-guzzling vehicles to oil dependence on the Middle-East and the support of terrorism. The groups point out that U.S. oil imports have increased 60 percent since the Gulf War. On terrorism, only one in 10 survey participants felt purchasing an SUV actually supported terrorism.

The KBB New Vehicle-Buyer Attitude Study on SUVs was administered on the company’s Web site www.kbb.com. Survey respondents include those considering buying an SUV as well as those that are not. The study was completed over a four-day period at the end of January 2003 to determine the attitudes and views of SUVs amidst heavy criticism of the vehicle segment by influencers.

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