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2009 APEAL Study Results

By Jeff Youngs, December 31, 2008
A slew of hot new models from both domestic and import auto manufacturers has resulted in a significant up-tick in overall owner satisfaction with vehicle performance and design, according to the latest J.D. Power and Associates Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study. Not only is this good news for consumers but it is a welcome development for struggling auto manufacturers, as throughout the years, vehicle models achieving high APEAL scores have been shown to benefit from faster sales, fewer cash incentives and higher profit margins.

Indeed, the 2009 APEAL study reveals that all-new and redesigned models achieve a three-year high in vehicle appeal, with seven of these models receiving awards in their respective segments:
In fact, in 2009, the APEAL score for all-new and redesigned models averages 790 on a 1,000-point scale-11 points higher than in 2008 and 15 points higher than the 2009 score for carryover models.

"Most automakers are on track in terms of designing new models that are highly appealing," said David Sargent, vice president of automotive research at J.D. Power and Associates. "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." The 2009 Ford F-150, which also ranked highest in the large pickup segment in the recently released J.D. Power and Associates 2009 Initial Quality Study (IQS)SM, is one example of an all-new or redesigned model that not only launched with high levels of initial quality but also has been successful in satisfying its owners in terms of the vehicle's performance and design characteristics.

Also contributing to the auto industry's improvement in APEAL scores are gas prices that are much lower than at the same time last year. "Although lower fuel prices and the switch to smaller vehicles have undoubtedly helped, there are also many individual vehicles that have made strong improvements in fuel economy ratings," said Sargent. "For example, the Ford F-150, Cadillac Escalade, Volkswagen Jetta and redesigned Dodge Ram have all made major strides in owner satisfaction with fuel economy through the introduction of more efficient powertrains."

The 2009 APEAL Study provides information gathered from over 80,000 purchasers and lessees of 2009 model-year vehicles. Overall model performance is measured on a 1,000-point scale. A higher score indicates better performance and a lower score indicates worse performance. The 2009 study covers a total of 90 vehicle attributes, and organizes them into the following 10 categories:
  • Exterior
  • Driving Dynamics
  • Interior
  • Visibility/Driving Safety
  • Engine/Transmission
  • HVAC, or Climate Controls
  • Storage and Space
  • Audio/Entertainment/Navigation
  • Seats
  • Fuel Economy

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Highlights from the 2009 APEAL Study include:
  • The average APEAL score for all models in 2009 has improved considerably to 779 from 770 in 2008, driven primarily by increased owner satisfaction with fuel economy. This higher satisfaction comes from three main sources. First, fuel prices have decreased significantly during the past year, which has reduced owner concerns about gas mileage. Second, owners are switching to more fuel-efficient vehicles-in 2009, more than one-half of all vehicles included in the study are powered by 4-cylinder engines, compared with just 39 percent in 2008. Third, automakers are designing models to be more fuel efficient than their predecessors.
  • 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. Among premium models, import nameplates retain a slight edge, while among non-premium models, domestic brands have a similar edge.
  • Volkswagen captures four segment-level awards-more than any other vehicle nameplate in 2009-for the CC, GTI, Passat and Tiguan. Ford, Honda, Mercedes-Benz and Nissan each garner two awards. Ford receives model-level awards for the F-150 (in a tie) and Flex. Honda models receiving awards are the Odyssey (for a fifth consecutive year) and Ridgeline (for a fifth consecutive year). Mercedes-Benz earns awards for the S-Class (for a third consecutive year) and SLK-Class. Notably, the S-Class achieves the highest APEAL score of any model in the industry. Nissan receives awards for the Armada and Maxima.
  • Also receiving awards are the Chevrolet Avalanche (for a second consecutive year), in a tie; Dodge Challenger; Hyundai Genesis; Mini Cooper (for a second consecutive year); Porsche Cayenne (for a second consecutive year); and Smart Fortwo. The Ford F-150 and Honda Ridgeline are the only two models to rank highest in their respective segments in both the 2009 APEAL Study and 2009 IQS released in June.
  • Porsche is the highest-ranking nameplate in APEAL for a fifth consecutive year, while domestic brands comprise the four most-improved nameplates. Dodge posts the largest improvement, followed by Pontiac, Buick and Cadillac, respectively. The three most-improved models are also from domestic manufacturers, including the Dodge Ram, Buick Lucerne and Ford F-150.
About the Study
The APEAL Study examines how gratifying a new vehicle is to own and drive, based on owner evaluations of more than 90 vehicle attributes. The 2009 APEAL Study is based on responses gathered between February and May 2009 from more than 80,900 purchasers and lessees of new 2009 model-year cars and trucks who were surveyed after the first 90 days of ownership. The APEAL Study complements the recently released J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality StudySM (IQS), which focuses on problems experienced by owners during the first 90 days of ownership.

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