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Benchmark J.D. Power APEAL Study: Improved Fuel Economy Driving Appeal of Redesigned Models

By: Jeff Youngs, 7/23/2014

Automakers are increasingly incorporating modern safety, entertainment, and information technologies into their latest vehicles, but the functionality and usability of such systems is limiting their contribution to overall owner satisfaction with new and redesigned vehicles. This is one of several key findings of the J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution, and Layout (APEAL) Study,SM a benchmark automotive study that for nearly two decades has measured how gratifying new vehicles are to own and drive.

"Manufacturers often look to new features and technologies to keep their vehicles fresh and attractive, but designing systems that consumers find intuitive and easy to use has been a challenge," said Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. automotive at J.D. Power. "Newly launched models surpass carryovers in impressing owners with the look and feel of the vehicle. But as we also see in our 2014 Initial Quality Study, owners are not as comfortable with the functionality of the features. To differentiate new models from the pack, automakers must continue to design systems that are not just attractive, but also intuitive and easy to use."

Though overall vehicle appeal across all makes and models remains essentially flat compared with last year's APEAL Study, dropping just one point from 795 to 794 on a 1,000-point scale, satisfaction with fuel economy was the only factor that improved, according to verified owners of 2014 model-year cars, trucks, SUVs, and vans. Survey respondents reported an average of 25 mpg in the 2014 APEAL Study compared with 24.5 mpg in the 2013 APEAL Study. Furthermore, according to the study, gas prices declined 3% during the survey period, helping to lift perceptions of vehicle fuel efficiency and driving range.

While new-vehicle owners are more satisfied with the fuel economy of their vehicles compared with last year, it is important to note that survey respondents remain generally dissatisfied with the fuel economy provided by their vehicles. "Despite improvements this year, fuel economy continues to be the lowest-scoring category in the study by a wide margin," said Stephens.

Stephens underscores the challenge automakers face when trying to calibrate their engines and transmissions in order to improve fuel economy: "Automakers must find the right balance between owner expectations of fuel economy and areas that affect the driving experience, such as horsepower and transmission performance, which is not an easy task. Customers are not always happy with the trade-off between those characteristics."

As is typical in the annual APEAL Study, new and redesigned models score higher than carryover models, and more expensive models score higher than less expensive models. Additional highlights of the 2014 APEAL Study include:

The J.D. Power 2014 APEAL Study surveyed more than 86,000 people who purchased or leased a new 2014 model-year vehicle and had owned the vehicle for at least 90 days. For complete coverage of the 2014 APEAL Study, use the links provided below.

Additional Research:

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