August 20, 2004

Price of gasoline affecting sales of larger SUVs

Westlake Village, California – Concerns about gas mileage continue to influence new-vehicle shopping, particularly among consumers who consider purchasing SUVs, according to the 2004 J.D. Power and Associates Escaped Shopper Study released on Thursday.

The study, which examines the reasons new-vehicle shoppers consider, but reject, a vehicle finds that approximately 15 percent of new-vehicle buyers reject a model due to its gas mileage. The concern about gas mileage is particularly influential among those who seriously consider a full-size SUV model, with 22 percent rejecting a particular model due to gas mileage concerns. Nearly 40 percent of those shoppers who reject a full-size SUV due to gas mileage ultimately purchase a midsize SUV instead, while nearly 20 percent purchase another model in the segment.

“As long as gas prices remain high, gas mileage will continue to be an important factor that buyers consider when shopping for a new vehicle,” said Scot Eisenfelder, vice president of the retail automotive practice at J.D. Power and Associates. “However, SUVs are still a popular choice among buyers. While SUV shoppers keep gas mileage in mind, a large proportion of them still buy another SUV, albeit a smaller one, when the one they first considered didn’t meet their standards for fuel efficiency.”

There is evidence that the extended incentive wars are shaping customer expectations, as an increasing number of shoppers reject models because they do not have sufficient rebates. Approximately 18 percent of shoppers reject a model due to insufficient rebates – up 2 percent over 2003. Domestic models are rejected more frequently than import models based on insufficient rebates (20% vs. 17%, respectively), despite higher average rebates offered by domestic brands.

“While shoppers are always keen on a good deal, manufacturers with the most attractive incentive offers are often still rejected based on a perception of inadequate rebate or finance incentives,” said Eisenfelder. “Many shoppers who reject one brand because it lacks incentives end up buying another brand that traditionally doesn’t offer substantial rebates. This is a good example of how product attributes, which are typically highly important to shoppers, can outweigh financial incentives.”

The average number of vehicles seriously considered per shopper declined slightly in 2004, in part driven by an increase in the proportion of “passionate buyers” – those who say they fell in love with the model and didn’t seriously consider another vehicle – from 21 percent in 2003 to nearly 25 percent of buyers in 2004. A major driver of the increase in “passionate buyers” can be attributed to a record number of model launches, with 28 new model introductions included in the 2004 study.

“With an increase in new-model launches over the next few years, it will become increasingly difficult for older models to gain a place on the shopping list,” said Eisenfelder.

The 2004 Escaped Shopper Study is based on responses from 28,719 new-vehicle owners in the United States.

Top 10 Reasons Cited by Vehicle Shoppers for Rejecting Particular Models

  1. Total price too high

  2. Total monthly payment too high
  3. Not available with rebates/incentives like vehicle I purchased
  4. Didn’t like exterior styling/design
  5. Wanted better gas mileage
  6. Salespeople/dealer not professional
  7. Limited availability on dealer lots
  8. Not available with special low interest financing
  9. Believed another makes dealer would provide better service
  10. Didn’t like look/design of interior

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