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Tesla Tops Consideration and Vehicle Satisfaction Results

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Each year there are several surveys of Vehicle Satisfaction in the United States marketplace.  Two of the most respected are from Consumer Reports, the widely read consumer buyer guide and automotive-specialist research company AutoPacific.  Consumer Reports results were released on December 22, 2016.  AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction results were released on June 1, 2016.

The results are similar in some ways.  The differences between AutoPacific’s “Future Consideration” results and Consumer Reports “Would Buy Again” results can be dramatic.  AutoPacific’s “Future Consideration” measures owner loyalty.  That is what percentage of the brand’s present owners would consider the brand again?  AutoPacific also assumes vehicle buyers may be considering more than one brand in the future.  This makes the percentage of consumers considering any one brand usually higher than the more definite “will buy” results from Consumer Reports.

brand-consideration-comparison-vvTesla is tops in all three measurements from Consumer Reports and AutoPacific.  Then the comparisons diverge dramatically.  In AutoPacific’s consideration results, popular domestic brands Ford (4) and Chevrolet (6) are in the top ten.  In CR’s “will buy again” results Chevrolet is 9th and Ford is 15th separated by one percentage point.   Second ranked in CR’s results, Porsche is 8th in AutoPacific’s consideration.  Cadillac is second in AutoPacific’s consideration results but 22nd in CR’s rankings.

An interesting result in AutoPacific’s two measurements is that Ford and Chevrolet are very strongly considered while scoring below the industry average in their vehicle satisfaction scores.  This is testament to the strength of their brand image.

So how can consumers use these divergent messages?  Compare the brands at the top and the bottom of the list and see where there are similarities.  In both Consumer Reports and AutoPacific results, Fiat is at the bottom.  Ram, Fiat Chrysler’s truck-only brand has OK results from CR, but is on the bottom of the AutoPacific future consideration results.  Hot-selling Jeep is towards the bottom in all the measurements.  Should the buyer consider buying a Jeep a risk if owners are hesitant to buy another one?  Would a new Jeep get lower satisfaction scores?  Infiniti gets a pretty good satisfaction score from AutoPacific, but both CR “will buy” and AutoPacific consideration scores are very low.  Something is going on there.

For each brand there is a story.  Data compiled by organizations like Consumer Reports and AutoPacific can go a long way in helping consumers fine tune their consideration set when they are in the market for a new car or light truck.


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Auto Industry is Ahead of Fuel Economy Technology

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The Midterm Evaluation of Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards report issued in July 2016 by the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) set the stage for comments on 2022-2025 CAFE standards.  The comment period ends on September 30, 2016 and some congressional leaders have asked for a further 60 day extension to receive comment.  Reading the details of the report is very enlightening and has largely been overlooked by the media.

Fuel Economy to Double from 2012 to 2025  In the rules established in 2012, fuel economy is to double by 2025 and green house gas emissions are to be cut in half.  This would save 12 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of 2012-2025 model year cars and light trucks and save consumers billions of dollars in fuel costs.

Report Under-Estimates Truck Percentage of Light Vehicle Market  At the time the initial rules were set, the truck mix was assumed to be 33% of the light vehicle fleet.  Given today’s low gas prices and the popularity of crossover SUVs, the light truck mix is over 60% of the market today and is projected to grow to over two thirds of the market by 2020.  In the Midterm Evaluation the government agencies show the highest truck mix to be 52% with low fuel prices continuing.  If fuel prices return to peak levels seen during the last decade (not projected), the light truck mix is assumed to be 38%.  Given the reality of the market, both of these estimates are conservative and very low.

Automakers Ahead of Schedule in Meeting Future CAFE Requirements  To date, the Midterm Evaluation concludes “auto manufacturers have over-complied with the program”.  This is a surprising statement from agencies that often accuse the industry with foot dragging in fuel efficiency and safety technologies.  They note that “fuel economy technologies are entering the market at rapid rates” and that the costs of adding these technologies have not been as high as estimated back in 2012.

Consumers Have Accepted Enhanced Powertrains  The report also notes that consumer acceptance of advanced fuel efficiency technology has largely been positive.  Ford’s EcoBoost turbocharged powertrain technologies have been well accepted (and strongly advertised).  Stop/Start technology is becoming more accepted according to AutoPacific’s consumer research.  Stop/Start shuts the engine off when stopped and then restarts the engine immediately when the accelerator is applied.  Some Stop/Start systems are seamless.  Others are rough on start-up. As the systems improve acceptance will improve.

Enhanced Gasoline Powertrains Can Meet 2025 CAFE Standards  To meet 2025 CAFE requirements, the agencies identify several technologies that will play an important part.  Most are enhancements to gasoline powertrains.  Tops on the list are transmissions with 8-speeds or more (70%) .  General Motors and Ford are working together to develop multi-speed transmissions.  More engines will be turbocharged (54%).  Stop/Start will become more commonplace (38%).  The most interesting fact is the report assumes less than 2% of the vehicle fleet will be full electric vehicles and less than 1% will be a plug-in hybrid.  Mild hybrids are estimated to be 14% and full hybrids will be 14% to meet 2025 CAFE.  There is only passing mention of fuel cell vehicles.

Substantial Cost Increases to Meet Future CAFE Standards  Improving fuel economy is not free.  Back in 2012, cost increases of over $3,000 per vehicle were estimated to meet 2025 standards. The cost is now estimated by the agencies to be around $1,250 (over a 2021MY vehicle).  Nowhere in the report does it mention how much the cost to get from 2012 to 2021 is.  The report estimates that meeting the 2022 to 2025 standards will increase lifetime vehicle costs by $87 billion.  This is estimated to be offset by fuel savings of $120 billion and other benefits of $55 billion.  The net benefit is estimated to be $88 billion.  Like many government reports, the arithmetic is vague and the conclusions are shaky.

AutoPacific’s bi-monthly Fuel Price Impact Study shows that consumers are not particularly willing to spend more for a vehicle that is more environmentally friendly.  Consumers also say that their present vehicle is clean enough and the focus should be on cleaning up other sources of pollution.  The Midterm Evaluation does not mention that there has been any research conducted to determine consumers’ willingness to pay substantially more for higher fuel economy vehicles.

Plug-In Electric Vehicles Not Needed to Meet Federal CAFE  Perhaps the most interesting conclusion in the report is that plug-in electric vehicles are not needed to meet the Federal 2025 CAFE standards.  This is not welcome news to Tesla’s Elon Musk or Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn.  The primary reason electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) will impact the overall vehicle fleet are to satisfy California’s mandate for zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) in the fleet.  California’s regulations also are shared with northeastern states.

Even Tougher Standards in the Future?  The report is very complimentary of the auto industry’s progress in adopting enhanced technologies to meet future fuel economy requirements.  While some might hope that this would lead to a reduction in future standards, it might result in even tougher fuel economy goals.


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Iconic Stutz Still Exists – Warren Liu Wants to Resurrect It

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There have been over 1,800 car brands in the United States auto industry since 1896.  Entrepreneurs and enthusiasts saw the American auto industry as a way to make a name for themselves and, hopefully, a lot of money.  This set off a wave of industrial Darwinism that continues today.  Car brands came and went with startling regularity.  Some brands launched and died quickly and are now just a faint memory if remembered at all.  It would take a real automotive history buff to remember the Adria, or the Carhartt, or the Hackett.  Some more recent brands are still fresh in our memory like Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Mercury, Plymouth, Hummer and Saturn.  Today, there are 40 car brands on sale in the United States.  Some names are so strong that they keep coming back in one form or another.

Logo Credit:  Stutz Motor Car of America

Logo Credit: Stutz Motor Car of America

Stutz Sold 35,000 Cars Until Falling to the Great Depression

A once-storied name in the American luxury auto industry still exists – Stutz.  Stutz would be 104 years old today if it were still producing cars. They were famous for the Stutz Bearcat and Stutz Blackhawk. Stutz made fast cars for racing and luxury cars for the wealthy. While they were known as “The King of Cars” in the late teens, the company could not make it through the Depression and stopped production at its Indianapolis, Indiana factory in 1935. While Stutz was in business it sold about 35,000 cars.

If you are a reader of Clive Cussler adventure novels, Isaac Bell one of Cussler’s protagonists frequently drives a Bearcat while working as an early 1900s private detective. Cussler, an avid car collector, usually features iconic cars from the past in his books.

Kings of Bling – Excalibur, Stutz, Clenet

In the 1960s and 1970s three of the most flamboyant personal cars were produced – the Excalibur from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the resurrected Stutz fabricated near Turin, Italy and the Clenet from Santa Barbara, California. These were highly styled and high priced personal cars sold to celebrities, royalty and the filthy rich. The word bling had not been coined the way we use it today, but these cars were over-the-top with bling.

Stutz Motor Car of America

Seeing the Excalibur have reasonable success in the late ‘60s (Excalibur sold 3,200 cars from 1965 through 1989), and wanting a strong American name from the past that still resonated among luxury car marques, Stutz Motor Car of America resurrected the name in 1968.

Photo Credit:  Stutz Motor Car of America

Photo Credit: Stutz Motor Car of America

Renowned Chrysler stylist Virgil Exner designed a new Blackhawk coupe in 1970 based on the Pontiac Grand Prix. In an age where styling excess was de rigeur, Exner’s flamboyant design attracted buyers like Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Lucille Ball. At one point, a Stutz model was the highest priced car in the world. From 1970 through 1995 over 600 cars were produced.

Another flamboyant car that should not be ignored was the Clenet. Clenet made about 430 cars from 1977 through 1982.


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Car Owners Select Trump Over Other Candidates

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Vote ImageThis article was posted in Forbes.com blog, Friday, February 19, 2016 (http://www.forbes.com/sites/georgepeterson1/2016/02/19/car-owners-select-trump/#6e8407941b81).

“Just the facts, ma’am”, said Joe Friday.  Here are the results from a 1,100 respondent AutoPacific national internet survey asking vehicle owners what their political leanings are and who they would prefer for President come November.

The poll is not overwhelmingly scientific.  It does not look at preferences based on political affiliation or likelihood to vote.  It simply asks who they would prefer for President and does show some very interesting results.

Political Leanings  What are the political leanings of car (and truck) owners?  About 36% describe themselves as Independent with Ford (33%), Toyota (30%), Honda (24%), Chevrolet (20%) and Subaru (20%) the brands most likely to identify as Independent.  About 34% describe themselves as Republican with Ford (27%), Toyota (23%), Chevrolet (19%) the top three.  About 25% describe themselves as Democrat with Toyota (30%), Honda (23%) and Subaru (17%) the top three.  Libertarians account for about 5% of the sample with Toyota (35%), Ford (31%), Honda (23%), Chevrolet (23%) as their top four brands.

The most “Republican” brands are Lexus (45%), GMC (43%), Infiniti (39%), Jeep (36%), and Audi (36%).  The most “Democrat” brands are Tesla (37%), Fiat (35%), and Land Rover (32%)

Trump Wins Overall  Among the presidential candidates of any party, Donald Trump is the top preference (24%), followed by Hillary Clinton (18%), Bernie Sanders (17%), Ted Cruz (9%), and Marco Rubio (7%).  The remaining candidates are all under 5% with Chris Christie, and Carly Fiorina having pulled out of the race after the New Hampshire primary.

Brand Owners Most Likely to Select…  The owners of brands most likely to select Donald Trump are GMC (31%), Mitsubishi (31%), Scion (30%), Ford (25%), Jeep (25%), Buick (25%), and Cadillac (25%).  No FIAT owners would prefer Trump.  The brands most likely to select Hillary Clinton are Mercedes-Benz (25%), Infiniti (25%), Tesla (25%), BMW (24%), Cadillac (24%).  The brands most likely to select Bernie Sanders are Fiat (44%), MINI (41%), Tesla (35%), Volvo (32%), Mazda (28%), Volkswagen (28%), Scion (27%), Subaru (27%), Toyota (25%).

Trump Profile  Those vehicle owners who prefer Donald Trump are likely to own domestic mainstream brands.  About 57% have a college education and about 36% have a household income over $100,000.  Contrary to other surveys Trump does well among the youngest vehicle owners capturing about 33% aged 18-29 years old.   The lowest preference for Trump is among vehicle owners in their 30s at 15%.  All other age groups prefer Trump in the 22%-28% range.

Clinton Profile  Brands with stronger preference for Hillary Clinton tend to be luxury brands.  About 76% have a college degree and about 45% have a household income over $100,000.  Preference for Clinton by age group is strongest among the 60-69 age group with 22% preferring Clinton – about equal to Trump in that age group.  Lowest preference for Clinton is among the youngest with just 9% of the 18-29 year old group preferring her.

Sanders Profile  Bernie Sanders attracts both mainstream and luxury brands.  The owner profile of these brands suggest a more liberal mindset. About 60% have a college degree and about 35% have a household income over $100,000.  Strongest preference for Sanders is among 30-39 year olds (26%), among 18-29 year olds (21%) and among 40-49 year olds (21%).  This confirms Sanders preference among younger vehicle owners.

There are many polls being cited during these early weeks of a long, long election cycle.  Results are all over the map with Trump generally on top for the Republican nomination followed by Ted Cruz.  In the race for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders is putting up a surprisingly strong anti-establishment fight.  It will be interesting to refer back to these results in November to see who will be our next President.  If the vote were held today among owners of cars and trucks, the winner would be Trump by a narrow margin.


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Lincoln Continental Over the Years

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2017 Lincoln Continental

2017 Lincoln Continental


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Manual Transmission RIP – Let ’em Die

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We keep watching the hand wringing of automotive enthusiasts (of which we are a member) about the manual transmission fading from the American vehicle fleet.  In fact, in 2010 our friends at Car and Driver created a Facebook page entitled “Save the Manuals” moaning about the “paucity” of manual transmissions offered in new vehicles.  The latest issue of Car and Driver continues to advertise the site.  At a recent new model introduction, a wizened old auto journalist railed on about how the car maker was killing the manual transmission.  They were not offering one on the higher priced models of the car.  Well, as experienced as he may be, he is out of touch.

Over the years, we have been proponents of automatics especially since they have become so efficient.  Based on AutoPacific research we have the data.  Here are the tidbits from the latest year’s survey (the data have changed only slightly year over year):Manual Transmission Shifter

81% of New Vehicle Acquirers Can Drive a Vehicle With a Manual Transmission  Frankly, we thought this number would be much smaller.  For the sake of their ego maybe these respondents claim they can drive a manual when they actually cannot or do so very poorly.  About 89% of men and 68% of women claim they can drive a vehicle with a manual transmission.  By age group, 52% of respondents in their 20s and 71% of those in their 30s say they can drive a vehicle with a manual transmission.  Over 40 years of age, over 85% say they can drive a manual.  We are surprised that so many in their 20s and 30s claim they can drive a manual.

94% Want an Automatic in Their Next Vehicle  81% of the respondents say they want an automatic transmission in their next vehicle.  About 14% say they want an automatic with paddle shifters.  Only 5% want a manual transmission.Automatic Transmission Shifter

Highest Preference for Manual Transmissions are in Sports and Compact Cars  About 20% of sporty car (Camaro/Mustang) owners want a manual in their next vehicle.  About 13% of sports car owners (Porsche 911, Corvette) want a manual transmission.  About 11% of compact car owners want a manual transmission.  The sports and sporty car owners want a manual because they perceive the manual gives them a more sporty driving experience and better control over the car.  Compact car owners perceive that a manual will give them better fuel economy and also a lower price.  We might have thought pickup truck owners would want a manual transmission but this is not the case.  Only 5% of pickup owners want a manual transmission in their next vehicle.

Manuals to Fade Away  In many press events AutoPacific attends, members of the automotive press continue to argue for more manual transmissions to be added to newly introduced vehicles.  This is contrary to what the people who actually buy cars want.  While there will be some bitching and moaning from the media, automakers should save their resources and concentrate on making outstanding automatics and dropping manuals in the future.Paddle Shifter

Sidenote on Paddle Shifters  Manufacturers have been adding paddle shifters to automatics to give a sportier ambiance.  In AutoPacific research over the years, we have found that drivers might use this feature for the first couple of weeks they have their vehicle.  Then they never use paddle shifters again.  While implementing paddle shifters is now an inexpensive proposition, it still might not be worth the trip.


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Auto Brands and Political Persuasion

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Logo SlideWith the mid-term elections coming in November, AutoPacific thought it would be interesting to see which auto brands leaned to the left or right.  An internet survey was conducted in July, 2014 to identify the political persuasion of drivers who would consider brands sold in the United States.  Each respondent identified whether they were aligned with the following political categories:  Communist, Socialist, Democrat, Green, Independent, Libertarian, Republican, Constitution, and Tea Party.  These were sorted into Liberal, Independent and Conservative.  The Liberal grouping includes Communist, Socialist, Democrat and Green.  Independent is Independent.  The Conservative grouping includes Libertarian, Republican, Constitution and Tea Party.

VV Slide Political PersuasionPre-Conceived Notions About Brands and Politics  Years ago, AutoPacific asked the political persuasion question in a survey.  The responses from many were rude, to say the least.  Now with the Internet it seems folks are more willing to share their leanings.

You might expect that there were some notions about the brands in our heads when we started this exercise.  Are Volvo and Subaru the ultimate Liberal brands?  Are Lincoln and Cadillac the most Conservative?  Which brands appeal to people who consider themselves Independent?  Are Tesla considerers Green?  Go below the fold to find out.


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Mercedes S-Klasse Premiere – Sturm und Drang!

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Mercedes-Benz premiered its all new S-Class sedan in Hamburg on May 15, 2013.  Held at the Airbus factory where final assembly of the Airbus A320 and A380 is occurring, Mercedes took advantage of an over-the-top venue for an over-the-top introduction to their new Flagship.  While an introduction like this should showcase the car (which it did), the showmanship used by Mercedes in this occasion was second to none.  A very official looking YouTube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U94OftPwcAc) shows the event up to just before Deiter Zetsche announced Alicia Keys who was sitting in the back of the center stage S-Class.  They probably were prevented from showing her performance for contract reasons, but it was pretty darn good.  She even worked very well with the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra that was playing original compositions prior to her arrival.


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Audi Freshens 2012 A4 Ideal Vehicle Award Winners and Adds 2013 Allroad

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Audi has launched five models from its 2013 B8 platform – the A4, S4, A5, S5 and Allroad.  The B8 is a mild mid-cycle freshening of Audi’s line of compact sport sedans.  But first to the awards…

Audi A4 Wins AutoPacific 2012 Ideal Vehicle Award: Over one-third of new car and light truck buyers are influenced by awards their vehicle has won.  Owner-based awards are more valuable than most.  For the 2012 model year – the B7 platform – Audi swept AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Awards for the Aspirational Luxury Car Category.  Not only was the A4 the most ideal Aspirational Luxury Car as rated by its owners, the A5 was in second place and the next-step-up A6 was in third place in the category.  These are significant achievements.

In AutoPacific’s IVA research, 25% of A4 owners want more power and acceleration.  About 23% want more passenger room, 21% want easier ingress/ingress and 19% want more daring styling.

A4/S4/A5/S5 Evolve Very Nicely, Thank You: So, the question is whether or not the new 2013 cars have hit their target market as well as their recent predecessors, and do they offset the shortfalls mentioned above?  After a drive of the cars in Colorado during fire season, we can safely say the 2013 versions are equal to or better than the class-winners they replace.

The basic dimensions of the 2013 cars are identical to the 2012 cars.  The styling of the sedans and coupe is very evolutionary with minor styling changes.  Think of the exterior styling change as a moderate “front six inches” with new grille shape, headlamps and front fascia.  The grille has evolved with a more trapezoidal look.   Audi took advantage of this freshening to re-design its LED-accented headlamps and taillamps.  These cues have become a distinguishing Audi design feature. So, Audi did not push the styling envelope with this facelift but remained safe.  (About 80% of A4 owners find the styling of the 2012 model ideal).

The interior of the cars remains an outstanding reason to buy.  Great fit and finish combined with excellent materials selection.   There is a new three-spoke steering wheel, revised instrument cluster and Audi connect with Audi’s controller-based MMI Navigation system is ordered.

Just a Brief Note on Touchscreens and Controllers: The auto industry is all over the place relative to touchscreen navigation systems or controller-based nav-systems.  Audi (MMI), BMW (iDrive), and Mercedes (COMAND) have continued with controller-based systems as have others.  Many mainstream brands continue with touchscreens or have moved to them after wrestling with controller logic.  Oddly, Volkswagen and Porsche – VWAG family members – both use touchscreen systems now.  Volkswagen used a touchscreen and Porsche has moved from a controller-based system to a touchscreen.  Audi engineers say “you will never see a touchscreen in an Audi”.  They don’t like the fingerprints.  So, inside VWAG, the engineers have agreed to disagree.

New Allroad is the Big News: The big news for the B8 launch is the re-launch of the Audi Allroad.  The previous Allroad (1999-2005) was based on the larger Audi A6 and looked more aggressively off-road capable than the 2013 version based on the smaller B8-platform A4.  The Allroad replaces the slow selling Avant wagon in the American lineup with the body of the Avant tweaked to appear off-road capable.  Its ride-height is increased by 1.5-inches.   The expected wheel arch trim is there as are the front- and rear-skid plates.  A roof rack completes the appearance package.

Powertrains Essentially Carryover and Still Outstanding: The B8s are powered by a 211HP 2.0L turbocharged direct-injection 4-cylinder engine.  With Audi’s Quattro all wheel drive system, the 4-cylinder turbo is mated to either a 6-speed manual transmission or 8-speed automatic transmission.  If you select a front wheel drive S4, you get a CVT.  This 4-cylinder turbo engine has always been a delight to drive and is one of the world’s best-regarded engines.

If you want more oomph in the A4 and A5, move up to the V6-powered S4 and S5.  With the S4 and S5 you get a 3.0L supercharged direct-injection V6 engine with 333-horsepower.  Quattro is standard in the S4 and S5.  While the A4 is no slouch on the road or in the mountains, The S-Cars provide effortless performance in any situation.  This engine choice lets you think about a place in traffic you want to be and then without knowing it, you are miraculously there.

So, all in all, the Audi B8 experience is about what you would expect.  Great cars with evolutionary styling, super finesse and outstanding powertrains.


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MINI – Ideal Popular Brand in AutoPacific Research

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AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Award (IVA) for Popular Brands recognizes the brand whose vehicles best hits the targets its buyers demand.  Winning an IVA shows the product planners, engineers and designers of the manufacturer understand what their target customers want and have created the vehicle to best meet their demands.

For 2012, MINI achieves the top ratings from its owners outpointing second place Popular Brand GMC by 31 rating points.  Owners of the MINI Cooper give the cheeky Premium Compact Car a dominating win in its category over the Subaru Impreza WRX.  The all new MINI Countryman outpoints second place Kia Sportage by 78 rating points.  MINI’s bold head-turning styling, combined with premium design cues and efficient, though small, packages yield an impressive score in AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Award research.


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