For the first time in nearly a decade, concerns about reliability have increased as a reason shoppers avoid certain models, according to the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Auto Avoider Study .  The study, now in its 13th year, examines the reasons consumers purchase, reject and avoid models in the marketplace when shopping for a new vehicle. The 2016 study measures shopping behavior among new-vehicle buyers who purchased during 2015.

Vehicle reliability has become a top consideration in deciding which vehicle to buy. This year, 55% of new-vehicle buyers cite reliability as a leading purchase reason—the third-most frequently cited reason after exterior and interior styling—vs. 51% in the 2015 study. Notably, as recently as 2013, vehicle reliability was mentioned by just 48% of new-vehicle buyers as a reason for purchasing. Reliability has also become a greater reason shoppers do not consider?or avoid?other models (17% in 2016 vs. 14% last year).

“Though vehicle reliability and durability have improved significantly over the years, they remain a vital consideration for consumers,” said Dave Sargent, vice president, quality practice, J.D. Power. “With so many auto recalls in the news and challenges with the introduction of new technology, consumers are even more attuned to the expected reliability of new vehicles. This impacts which models consumers avoid and which ones they ultimately purchase. Bad news can tarnish an automaker’s reputation in an instant, yet, can take years to build back up. Automakers need to convince consumers of the true reliability of their vehicles so it is not a reason to avoid selecting a particular model.”

According to Sargent, “concerns with vehicle reliability can also have a ripple effect on other aspects of vehicle consideration and ownership.” Study findings show that buyers who avoid models for reliability reasons tend to also have concerns regarding resale value, cost of maintenance and even safety.

As gas prices remain low, fuel economy has become a less frequently cited reason consumers select their new vehicle (51% vs. 55% last year). In fact, gas mileage has reached a five-year low as a reason to purchase a specific model. It is also cited less frequently as a reason to reject other models that were considered.

More than half (54%) of new-vehicle owners who replaced a vehicle buy the same brand or a brand within the same corporation, while 46% bought a vehicle from a different corporation entirely. Both premium and non-premium brand replacers say the top reason for not repurchasing the same brand is they “simply wanted to try something different.”

“This is a major challenge for auto marketers,” said Sargent. “In the auto industry, building consumer trust, loyalty and advocacy is paramount to ongoing success. However, there are so many great vehicles available to consumers that merely satisfying your customers is simply the cost of entry. To truly succeed, automakers must keep their exterior and interior designs fresh, ensure competitive performance and fuel economy levels, offer an array of advanced technology and achieve an excellent reputation for vehicle reliability.”

Following are some of the key findings of the 2016 study:

  • Top Reasons Shoppers Buy/Avoid a Vehicle: Exterior styling is the top reason shoppers buy a particular model (59%). It is also the top reason to avoid a particular vehicle (31%), followed by the vehicle costs too much and interior styling (18% each).
  • Perception of Reliability Weighs Heavily on Purchase Decision: Despite industry-wide efforts to improve reliability, the fact that reliability emerges as a key driver of purchase and avoidance underscores the importance of customer sentiment and perception in an environment of highly publicized recalls.
  • Car Buyers Doing Less Window Shopping: Since 2012, new-vehicle buyers are considering fewer models and shopping fewer dealers. On average, buyers physically shop only three models, one of which they buy.
  • Domestic Brands vs. European and Asian Brands: There remains a significant disconnect between perception and reality regarding the reliability of domestic brands compared with European and Asian brands. Avoidance of domestic models due to reliability concerns (24%) is nearly twice that of European (13%) and Asian (12%) models. In reality, the actual reliability of most domestic models is competitive with that of their import competitors.

Reliability is likely high on Minivan Shoppers’ lists, so let AudienceSCAN help you target this audience specifically. 17% of Minivan Shoppers already drive Hondas, and 35% have kids aged 10 to 12. And they take recommendations seriously: 36% took action based on a reference by an industry expert. If your dealers need even more proof that reliability is important, give them this stat: In the next 12 months, 35% want to buy things that help them feel “safe/secure.” Ask them to try out some mobile smartphone app ads or text message ads, because Minivan Shoppers are 90% more likely than average customers to take action when they receive them.

AudienceSCAN data is available as part of a subscription to AdMall for Agencies, or with the SalesFuel API. Media companies can access AudienceSCAN data through the AudienceSCAN Reports in AdMall.