INTELLICHOICE.COM AND AUTOPACIFIC TEAM UP TO ANNOUNCE FIRST ANNUAL MOTORIST’S CHOICE AWARDS
– Awards Recognize Vehicles with Highest Driver Satisfaction and Lowest Cost of Ownership –
– Infiniti QX56 Wins Highest Rating Among All Classes/Vehicle Models –
AutoPacific, the industry source for automotive owner satisfaction ratings and IntelliChoice.com, the online source for automotive ownership cost and value analysis, today announced the results of the newly established Motorist’s Choice Awards for the 2006 vehicle model year.
IntelliChoice.com and AutoPacific created the Motorist’s Choice Awards to determine the vehicles that delivered both the highest satisfaction and lowest cost of ownership. The collaboration between the two respected firms, who have each been authorities on the U.S. car market for the last 20 years, takes selected owner satisfaction data from AutoPacific’s surveys of new car and light truck buyers and combines it with IntelliChoice.com’s rating methodology to create a new measurement that speaks to both the hearts and minds of car buyers.
“While the economic analysis of car ownership remains very important—it can save or cost you thousands of dollars over the life of the vehicle—it is also important to recognize owner satisfaction as another significant influencer in vehicle purchases,” said James Bell, publisher of IntelliChoice.com. “These are the two key benchmarks we think car buyers should be most attuned to.”
“Ratings of owners’ satisfaction with their new car and truck illustrates how well the vehicle is satisfying the emotional and practical needs of the driver. Satisfaction is more than simply how well a product is screwed together and there are many more dimensions to the equation. Combining AutoPacific’s satisfaction results with the value analysis from IntelliChoice provides the car buyer with an outstanding benchmark to use when selecting a new vehicle,” said George Peterson, President of AutoPacific.
For the inaugural awards, IntelliChoice.com and AutoPacific identified 29 winning models by segment and class. The top-ranked vehicles in their respective categories are:
o Cars: Lexus LS430
o Trucks: Chevrolet Avalanche 1500 (2WD)
o SUV/Crossover: Infiniti QX56
o Minivans/Wagons: Audi A6 4.2 Quattro
In terms of overall rankings, the Infiniti QX56 SUV scored highest in both driver satisfaction and lowest cost of ownership, followed closely by the Lexus LS430 sedan.
Back in 1995 and 1996, Honda and Toyota were at the forefront of what is now considered by many as the crossover segment. Since then, Toyota has launched three versions of the RAV4, and Honda is not far behind with their third-generation CR-V for 2007 model year. Where Toyota chose to grow RAV4 enough for a small third row and added an optional V6, Honda has stayed close to the second-generation’s overall size.
The “official” auto show introduction is at the Paris show
in September/October, around the time sales begin in the States. Honda has released initial information, and even has a site
where you can sign up for updates. Here are first impressions from VehicleVoice
and contributors from AutoPacific
, though we haven’t yet driven the vehicle Honda hints you will CRAVE.
Buyer’s Market for Compact SUVs
It is a good year if you’re in the market for a compact SUV. Along with the CR-V, new and updated entries include the Hyundai Santa Fe
, Jeep Compass
, Jeep Patriot
Outlander, and Suzuki SX4
. (Click for VehicleVoice drive reviews of Compass
, and Santa Fe
.) Beyond all-new products, the segment is full of vehicles with recent minor or major updates. Compact SUVs are less thirsty, but have enough utility to haul a significant amount of stuff. Further sweetening the pot, safety and convenience features from more expensive segments are popping up here, too.
The Honda Odyssey
Minivan wins the Ideal Minivan honors for 2006. In competition with the Ford Freestar, Toyota Sienna, and Chrysler Town & Country, among nine others (twelve in all), the Honda Odyssey excelled. The verdict was clear; Honda engineers and designers are in sync with their audience. Stacked against the competition, owners of the Odyssey were least likely to find a reason to change their vehicle. Owners wanted to keep their passenger area the same, along with their cargo space, their level of technology, interior storage, their power and acceleration; they even wanted to keep the same wheels and tires. *Honda Odyssey also was the top rated Minivan in AutoPacific’s 2006 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards.
An “ideal” is defined as an excellent or perfect example. In the first Ideal Vehicle Awards, announced today by automotive research and consulting firm AutoPacific
, owners rate their new 2006 model year cars and trucks by how closely they come to their ideal. The cars or trucks that owners would change the least are the most ideal.
Those carmakers that best understand their customers and create the vehicle their core buyer group desires has come closest to the ideal.
The top-rated vehicle and top-rated car is the Mercury Montego
in the Large Car/Luxury Car category. In fact, Ford Motor Company sweeps the first three positions overall with the Ford Crown Victoria and Ford Five Hundred
in second and third place. The top-rated truck is the Honda Odyssey
The top-rated brand overall is Hyundai out-pointing Mercury and Lincoln for the most ideal vehicle honors.
Ford Motor Company and American Honda have three segment winners apiece. BMW and Hyundai have two each.
Of the sixteen Ideal Vehicle Award (IVA) categories, Japanese brands have seven segment winners, American brands have four, European brands have three and Korean brands have two winners.
The top-rated product segment is Large Car/Luxury Car confirming that Americans continue to value large, comfortable cars suitable for suburban and highway cruising.
Top-rated 2006 Ideal Vehicle brand:
Top-rated 2006 Ideal Product Segment:
Large Car/Luxury Car
Top rated 2006 Ideal Vehicles by segment:
Premium Luxury Car: Lexus LS
Entry Luxury Car: BMW 3-Series
Large Car/Luxury Car: Mercury Montego
Premium Mid-Size Car: Hyundai Sonata
Mid-Size Car: Mercury Milan
Image Compact Car: Toyota Prius
Compact Car: Ford Focus
Sports Car: Porsche 911
Sporty Car: Acura RSX
SUT, SUV, and MINIVAN:
Sport Utility Truck: Honda Ridgeline
Luxury Sport Utility: BMW X5
Large Sport Utility: GMC Yukon
Premium Mid-Size Sport Utility: Nissan Murano
Mid-Size Sport Utility: Hyundai Santa Fe
Compact Sport Utility: Subaru Forester
Minivan: Honda Odyssey
In addition to identifying segment winners, IVA also establishes numerical ideal vehicle ratings for virtually every passenger car and light truck (except pickups) in the United States market. This results from calculating owner input across 11 specific areas related to a vehicle’s exterior size, passenger roominess, cargo space, driver’s seat comfort, drivers seat visibility, interior technology, power, ease of getting in and out, interior storage compartments and tires and wheels. The 2006 ratings reflect input from buyers and lessees of new vehicles acquired September 2005 through January 2006. Pickup trucks are not incorporated because of numerous body styles included within each pickup line.
This is what we do. AutoPacific and VehicleVoice contuously monitor the American and worldwide auto industry for issues that impact VehicleVoice panel members. The simple fact that Asian manufacturers are adding capacity or delaying capacity additions in North America are major issues.
Kia Puts 300,000 Unit Plant in Georgia on Hold
In early March 2006, Kia announced that they were going to build an all-new greenfield assembly plant in Western Georgia. This 300,000 unit, $1.2 billion plant likely would have provided Kia with the NAFTA capacity to build an all new pickup truck. This plant, along with Toyota adding capacity at the newly available Subaru indiana Automotive plant (to build the Toyota Camry) put more pressure on the Big Three.
Pressure is temporarily off given Kia’s April 27 decision to indefinitely defer building the plant in Georgia and an additional plant in Eastern Europe in Slovakia. This is a total of $2.4 billion in new plant construction put on hold. The suspension was due to the management crisis Hyundai-Kia is facing in Korea with its Chairman Chung Mong Koo having been put in the slammer (Seoul Decention Center) on charges of embezzlement and breach of trust. Chairman Chung has been closely involved in all decisions concerning Hyundai and Kia plans – worldwide and in the USA.
Honda Decision for a New Plant Replaces Kia Threat
While Kia backed off in late April, Honda announced on May 17 it is building a new 200,000 unit assembly plant in North America. Honda, a master at flexible assembly and super-efficient plants, will have capacity for about 1.6 million units in North America when the new plant is on line in 2008. At present, the site for the new plant has not been announced.
Kia Likely Will Be Back Soon
We also have to believe that the deferral of the Kia assembly plant is only temporary. Kia’s pickup truck concept has been favorably received at auto shows and clearly could have a place in the USA market – but Kia needs a NAFTA source to avoid the 25% “chicken tax” on imported pickup trucks. Once the smoke clears from the scandal surrounding Chairman Chung the go code will likely be given again.
Pressure on Big Three Continues Unabated
It does not matter if the pressure is coming from Japan-based competitors or Korea-based competitors, the challenges to the American auto makes continues to increase. Saddled with older facilities, aging workforces, UAW contracts and work rules, the American manufacturers continue to be battered by the new, non-union plants from Asian manufacturers on their home soil. There are also vibrations from Europe that possibly a Peugeot, Audi or Volkswagen plant could be in the offing.
Site to Be Determined
Among news of manufacturing facilities in all kinds of industries leaving the United States, several auto manufacturers are continuing to invest in expanding and building more North American production, and the latest news is from Honda.
Honda has steadily and consistently expanded its North American production base since their first plant here. Back in September 1979, Honda began building motorcycles in Marysville, Ohio, and still does. That was followed in November 1982 with auto assembly at a new plant, also in Marysville. Since then, Honda has consistently increased its manufacturing presence in the United States and Canada, with engine and transmission facilities as well as additional vehicle assembly plants.
Honda has capacity to build 1.4 million vehicles in North America from six auto plants, supported by several engine and transmission facilities. With the latest CR-V joining the assembly line in Ohio, there will be only a few products in Honda’s U.S. lineup not built here for 2007 model year. These are the newly introduced Fit, the low-volume S2000, and the even-lower-volume and now-cancelled Insight, though the Hybrid Civic is also imported. And we’re not even mentioning facilities for motorcycles, generators, and lawn mowers.
Honda has announced more increases for the last half of this decade. Though Honda already knows what locations are in contention and isn’t telling, during 2008 an all-new vehicle assembly plant will go on-line somewhere in the United States. This new plant will eventually have capacity for 200,000 units and Honda expects it will bring in another 1500 jobs. Which vehicles will come from the plant has not been announced, but if the Fit does well, building the next generation in the States is a logical choice. Honda’s also develops plants that are flexible and can build several different models; the new facility will also be able build several models. Along with the new assembly plant, a new engine plant is also going up next to the Alliston, Ontario, plant. Engine and transmission capacity is also being expanded in existing Ohio and Georgia facilities.
Summary: Honda’s North American Auto Assembly
Alliston, Ontario, Canada: Honda Pilot and Ridgeline, Honda Civic sedan (Canada only), Acura EL (Canada only), and Acura MDX
Lincoln, Alabama: Honda Odyssey and Pilot
East Liberty, Ohio: Honda Civic sedan, Civic coupe, Civic GX, Element
Marysville, Ohio: Honda Accord sedan and coupe, Acura TL
Mexico: Honda Accord sedan (Mexican market)
Nissan Mid-Size Sedan All New for 2007
Altima Evolves in Style Even With All New Platform
Whenever a high volume mid-size sedan is introduced it is, by definition, big news. These high volume sedans are the mainstream movers of the auto market. The king of the hill is the Toyota Camry, new for the 2007 model year and on the market in Spring 2006. Camry is the top selling “automobile” on the market. The Honda Accord is the second of the top tier Japanese heavyweights. The Nissan Altima is the third of these top tier Japanese competitors. Just about every buyer of a mid-size car looks at one of these three entries before buying. Of course, we can’t forget the likes of the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu and Impala, Mazda6 or Mitsubishi Galant, but the top three from Toyota, Honda and Nissan command the most attention.
Nissan showed its new-for-2007 Altima at the New York Auto Show in April and slipped in a few surprises. Counter to most recent design moves, the new Altima’s D-Platform body rides on a 1-inch SHORTER wheelbase. This is a bit surprising when most new cars get longer wheelbases as they evolve these days. Overall length remains the same.
CVT Standard with V6 – Brave Move Reminiscent of Murano
Additionally, Altima’s automatic transmission is now a CVT with the V6 rather than a geared automatic. A 6-speed manual is available for those who like to row between gears. This CVT news is major. Probably means a substantial cost reduction. The Nissan Murano crossover SUV has had a CVT since day one and has done pretty well. Whether a CVT in a major application like Altima is accepted time will tell. Brave move.
Styling Evolutionary – Interior Execution Critical to Success
The new Altima has evolutionary styling. You can probably say that it is not as distinctive and sophisticated as the previous generation Altima, but it is more distinctive than Accord or Camry.
A major bugaboo for the last Altima was its cut rate interior for the first three years on the market. Until a major interior upgrade for the 2005 model year, Altima interiors were downscale. Clearly met cost targets but not touch targets. After adding hundreds of dollars in interior upgrades for 2005, Nissan suppliers were given very aggressive cost reduction targets for the 2007 model. Hopefully, they have found the cost offsets in places where consumers can’t see or feel them.
Nissan’s abbreviated press kit states, “Enhanced interior feel with refined workmanship, expanded use of soft materials (such as padded armrests) and chrome accents.” Can’t wait!
Altima Still Nicely Powered
Power for the Altima comes from a 3.5L DOHC 24-valve V6 with 265-plus horsepower. Its 2.5L DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder has 165-plus horsepower.
Well, jury is out on the new generation Altima. We’ll have to wait until we drive one and experience the interior over several miles before reaching a verdict.
Camry Hybrid Launches with $25,900 Price Tag
Accord Hybrid Versus Camry Hybrid
Toyota has just announced pricing for its latest hybrid, the Camry. Sitting at the heart of the car market, this family sedan has a 187HP four-cylinder hybrid system that offers almost as much power as the launch V6-powered 2002 Camry. For a mere $25,900, one can get a hybrid powertrain and standard equipment including automatic headlights, premium audio, cruise control, Bluetooth, power driver’s seat, sixteen-inch wheels, heated side mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, and an ECO button that further improves fuel economy by controlling the HVAC system in certain situations. It arrives in dealers in May 2006.
This is an issue that VehicleVoice and AutoPacific has been tracking. Will a performance-oriented hybrid be more persuasive than a fuel economy biased hybrid. Honda has adopted the performance strategy with Accord, but not with Civic. Toyota has gone the fuel economy route with its Toyota brand hybrids, but with performance-oriented strategies with its Lexus brand hybrids. Over time, it will be very interesting to see how these differing strategies play out.
Camry launches with a price about $5000 less than Honda
‘s Accord hybrid sedan
, which uses a V6 and, with 253HP, offers significantly more horsepower. This dramatic difference in horsepower ratings presents an interesting case study. So far, hybrids have been primarily for improving fuel economy, as with the Prius and Civic hybrids, or for getting luxury performance with a smaller hit at the pump, as with the Lexus hybrids. But the Camry and the Accord hybrids go head-to-head in segment and size with slightly different philosophies, giving the market an the opportunity indicate a preference for hybrids with improved overall performance versus for hybrids focused more purely on improved fuel economy.
Every April, Consumer Reports publishes its Annual Auto Issue. This is the most widely read issue of Consumer Reports by far. There is information not only on new cars and trucks, but also on cars that have been in operation for years. VehicleVoice survey research and AutoPacific survey and focus group research concludes that Consumer Reports can have a significant impact on what cars and trucks an American driver may select. When asked what information sources a person uses when deciding what car to look at, Consumer Reports is often the first source mentioned.
Consumer Reports has gone beyond simply reporting the results of the surveys of its subscribers. Now they weigh in editorially and even select a Top Ten. But those vehicles are those discussed in Consumer Reports’ press releases. When you delve deeper into the April 2006 issue itself, there are many more vehicles worthy of attention. But, first for the Top Ten, as determined by Consumer Reports:
Best Sedan Less Than $20,000: Honda Civic
Best Sedan $20,000 to $30,000: Honda Accord
Best Sedan $30,000 to $40,000: Acura TL
Best Luxury Sedan: Infiniti M35
Best SUV Less Than $30,000: Subaru Forester
Best SUV More Than $30,000: Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Best Pickup Truck: Honda Ridgeline
Best Minivan: Honda Odyssey
Best Green Car: Toyota Prius
Most Fun to Drive: Subaru Impreza WRX-STi
Yes, you are right. There are no American cars or trucks in the list. There are no European cars in the list. There are no Korean cars in the list. Japanese brands swept the 2006 Consumer Reports Top Ten. And of those Japanese brands, Honda (including Acura) got five of the Top Ten positions. This is the first time that Japanese brand vehicles have swept these awards.
There is consolation, of course, that the Hondas are at least assembled in the USA.
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