Westlake Village, California – The auto industry achieved a three-year high in appeal for new and redesigned models, according to a new report by J.D. Power and Associates. Seven new models also received segment-level awards.

The report, 2009 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, measures how gratifying a new vehicle is to own and drive, based on owner evaluations of more than 90 vehicle attributes. The company surveyed more than 80,900 purchasers and lessees of new 2009 model-year cars and trucks after the first 90 days of ownership.

The 2009 APEAL score for all-new and redesigned models averaged 790 points on a 1,000-point scale. This is 11 points higher than in 2008, and 15 points higher than the 2009 score for carryover models. In addition, seven all-new and redesigned models ranked highest in their respective segments, including the Dodge Challenger, Ford F-150 (in a tie), Ford Flex, Hyundai Genesis, Nissan Maxima, Volkswagen CC and Volkswagen Tiguan.

“Most automakers are on track in terms of designing new models that are highly appealing,” said David Sargent, vice-president of automotive research. “The greater challenge for manufacturers lies in creating models that launch with both strong appeal and high quality, which ultimately lead to improved sales through greater customer loyalty and advocacy.”

Vehicle models achieving high APEAL scores have historically been shown to benefit from faster sales, less need for cash incentives, and higher profit margins on each vehicle sold.

The improvement in points for all models was driven primarily by increased owner satisfaction with fuel economy, through three main sources: fuel prices that have decreased significantly and reduced owner concerns about mileage; higher sales rates of four-cylinder engines; and automakers that are designing models to be more fuel efficient than their predecessors.

In 2009, domestic brands comprised the four most-improved nameplates. Dodge posted the largest improvement, followed by Pontiac, Buick and Cadillac, respectively. The three most-improved models are from domestic manufacturers: the Dodge Ram, Buick Lucerne and Ford F-150. The overall gap in APEAL scores between domestic and import models has narrowed considerably during the past several years and is just five index points in 2009, compared with 15 points in 2008 and 27 points in 2007. Import nameplates retained a slight edge among premium models, while domestic brands held a similar edge in non-premium models.

Volkswagen’s four segment-level awards were more than any other nameplate in 2009, for the CC, GTI, Passat and Tiguan. Receiving two awards each were Ford (F-150, in a tie, and Flex), Honda (Odyssey and Ridgeline, both for a fifth consecutive year), Mercedes-Benz (S-Class, for the third consecutive year, and SLK-Class) and Nissan (Armada and Maxima). The S-Class achieved the highest APEAL score of any model in the study, while the F-150 and Ridgeline were the only two to rank highest in their respective segments in both the 2009 APEAL study and 2009 Initial Quality Study, released in June.

Also receiving awards were the Chevrolet Avalanche, for a second consecutive year, in a tie; Dodge Challenger, Hyundai Genesis, Smart Fortwo, and Mini Cooper and Porsche Cayenne, both for their second consecutive years.

Porsche remained the highest-ranking nameplate in APEAL for its fifth consecutive year.

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