US automakers' image hurt by discounts, finds survey

SAN DIEGO: The domestic automakers' reliance in recent years on discounts has not been helping their reputations, according to a new survey by Strategic Vision, a consumer research company.

SAN DIEGO: The domestic automakers' reliance in recent years on discounts has not been helping their reputations, according to a new survey by Strategic Vision, a consumer research company.

In its 2003 Total Vision Index survey of 63,000 new-car buyers, Strategic Vision found that luxury brand Lexus has the best reputation for overall value among consumers.

As for individual models, Korean manufacturer Hyundai had two vehicles - its Elantra and Sonata - rated best in their class. The BMW Mini enjoyed a strong initial showing, as it was rated first in the "small specialty coupe" category.

The new Mini was even ranked above Lexus as a brand. However, it is not accurate to characterize the one model as a brand, said Daniel Gorrell, a VP at Strategic Vision.

The highest-rated US brand was Cadillac, at number nine, which jumped from number 16 in last year's survey. Saturn tied with Saab for number 11, and Lincoln came in at number 15.

"The domestics didn't fare as well as we have seen them do in the past," Gorrell said.

He attributed domestic makers' poor overall showing to a lack of new products, the poor resale values of many domestic models, the belief that they have a low durability, and other reputation issues.

There is also evidence that consumers see the price incentives domestic makers have been offering as a tactic they must employ to move a less-desirable product, he said.

"Do incentives create value? The answer is no, not necessarily. When your reputation is strong and you offer a price break, people really feel like they got something. When your reputation isn't strong, it's a desperate move," Gorrell said.

Domestic carmakers need to concentrate their marketing efforts on fewer brands, and continue to court the auto press when they have new models, Gorrell advised.

"The PR departments can do a lot, at least on the part of the auto press, to help them better understand the complete picture," Gorrell said.

Strategic Vision surveyed 63,000 buyers of 2003 models from October 2002 through March of this year. The results were tabulated in August.

Hyundai has improved its reputation with strong new models and its 10-year warranty, Gorrell noted. "They're buying trust with the warranty," he said.

Nissan moved ahead of Toyota in the latest survey, a change Gorrell attributed to the strength of new Nissan models.

Nissan still must improve its reputation for product reliability, where it continues to lag behind rivals Toyota and Honda, Gorrell said.

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