Westlake Village, California – Uncertain futures for automakers are causing consumers to avoid their vehicles, according to a new report by J.D. Power and Associates.

The 2009 Avoider Study found that nearly one in five new-vehicle buyers who avoid a particular brand cite their concern over the brand’s future as a reason for avoidance.

The study, now in its seventh year, examines the reasons consumers fail to consider particular models, or avoid them, when shopping for new vehicles. The top three reasons in 2009 were styling, price and perceived reliability, which remain unchanged from 2008. Concern over the future of the brand is the fourth-most-frequently mentioned reason for avoiding a particular model. Of those avoiding brands, 18 per cent mentioned this reason, the first time it has been included in the study.

The top five brands avoided for this reason were Chrysler, Dodge, Hummer, Pontiac and Saturn. At the time of the study, GM had announced that Hummer, Pontiac and Saturn would be dropped, and Chrysler and GM were in bankruptcy proceedings. Ford, Lincoln and Mercury had much lower levels of avoidance due to concerns over their future, which J.D. Power attributed to the fact that Ford did not enter bankruptcy proceedings or receive government assistance during the auto industry bailout.

“New-vehicle buyers want to know that if anything goes wrong with their vehicle in a year or two, that the manufacturer will be there to back up their products,” said Kerri Wise, director of automotive research. “While Chrysler and GM struggled to gain the confidence of some consumers, Ford actually made strides in improving perceptions of its products and reducing year-over-year avoidance in the critical areas of quality and reliability.”

Compared with avoiders who did not express concern with a brand’s future, those who did avoid due to such concern were also more likely to avoid the brand because of reliability, rapid depreciation, the manufacturer’s reputation, and poor quality.

“For some American manufacturers, quality and reliability performance in the past has led to a poor perception among consumers and, ultimately, to overall avoidance of those brands,” Wise said. “These perceptions are slow to change among consumers, so domestic brands must continue to focus on quality improvement and make sure their efforts are communicated to consumers.”

The uncertain economic outlook also affected avoidance rates for import brands. A “Buy American” sentiment has grown from the 2008 study among domestic buyers who avoid imports; in 2009, nearly six in ten domestic buyers who avoided an import model cited that they “didn’t want a foreign/import vehicle” as a reason, compared with 46 per cent in 2008.

Styling is also a critical element of consideration, and the study found that the Audi Q5, Dodge Challenger, Kia Soul and Pontiac G3 were “universally desired,” meaning that buyers are driven to purchase them due to styling, and avoiders are not turned off by the styling. “Polarizing” vehicles, such as the Ford Flex and Nissan Cube, influenced some buyers to purchase them due to their styling, but caused many consumers to avoid them.

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