Many politicians will tell you that the problem that sent two of the big three American automakers into bankruptcy was their failure to build small, fuel-efficient cars. Government policy over the next several years is expected to push that “small is better” agenda. But if you look at consumer preferences as recorded by market research, the story is entirely different. Just witness the top vehicles honored by the 2009 Motorist Choice Awards. According to that program, which recognizes new cars and trucks that give their owners both economic and emotional satisfaction, new-car buyers favor large and luxury automobiles. There is simply no doubt about that.
The fourth annual Motorist Choice Awards survey, announced in August, scores 196 cars, trucks, crossovers and SUVs. Of those, nearly 200 vehicles, large and luxury vehicles dominated this year’s results. The top 34 ranked vehicles and 106 of the top 107 were large cars, luxury cars, sport utility vehicles, crossover SUVs or minivans. Only one small car, the BMW 1 series, ranked in the top 100, at the 35th slot. After the 1 series, the Toyota Prius was the next highest-scoring small car, coming in 107th. With the top overall scores in both owner satisfaction and value, the Lexus LS, a substantially sized luxury sedan, placed highest of any 2009 model-year vehicle.
While the award program doesn’t suggest that a switch to building small cars will help General Motors with profitability, there were some good news for GM: The U.S. government-owned manufacturer collected six vehicle-segment awards, placing it second among the manufacturers who compete in the U.S. market. Toyota was the leading manufacturer with nine awards, including three won by the Lexus brand. While some in government would like GM to think small, GM’s wins came in the following categories: large car (Cadillac DTS in a tie with Lincoln Town Car), sports car (Chevrolet Corvette), large pickup (Chevrolet Avalanche), premium luxury SUV (Cadillac Escalade), large SUV (Chevrolet Tahoe) and large crossover SUV (Chevrolet Traverse).
Awards were given for top-scoring vehicles in each of the 23 segments, and for the top-scoring brand, which was Lexus this year. In addition to Toyota and GM, seven other manufacturers earned segment awards. Honda captured three and Chrysler two, while Audi, Ford, Hyundai, Nissan and Volkswagen took top honors in one segment each.
The Motorist Choice Awards were co-developed by Tustin, Calif.-based AutoPacific (known for its owner satisfaction rankings) and Campbell, Calif.-based IntelliChoice (a source for automotive ownership cost and value analysis) to recognize the vehicles that delivered both the highest customer satisfaction and the lowest cost of ownership. The awards combine AutoPacific’s owner satisfaction data from new car and truck buyers with IntelliChoice’s cost-of-ownership rating methodology to find and honor vehicles that speak to the heart and wallet of car buyers.
“Clearly, consumers still get great satisfaction from large and luxurious cars despite the economy, rising fuel costs and manufacturers’ focus on smaller vehicles,” said George Peterson, president of AutoPacific. “The highest-scoring cars in this survey are premium luxury cars, large cars, crossovers and SUVs, whether they’re built in the U.S., Asia or Europe. This affinity for big vehicles makes the American market unique compared to the rest of the world.”
So, bigger is still better in the United States, and it doesn’t seem that it’s going to change anytime soon.
Tom Ripley Driving Today Contributing Editor Tom Ripley writes about the auto industry and the human condition from his home in Villeperce, France.