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AutoPacific Announces 2008 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards

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Cadillac Top Brand, Mercedes-Benz S-Class Top Car, Toyota Sequoia Top Truck and Top Vehicle

Tustin, California, May 29, 2008 – A study released today by noted automotive consulting firm AutoPacific, Inc. summarizes the results of its 2008 model year vehicle satisfaction research. AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award (VSA) is an industry benchmark for objectively measuring how satisfied an owner is with their new passenger car or light truck.
In a year that promises to be the toughest in a decade, owner-based awards like AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award will help customers make their purchase decisions.
The brand with the highest satisfaction rating is Cadillac. The vehicle – car or truck – registering highest overall satisfaction in 2008 is the new-for-2008 Toyota Sequoia Large Sport Utility Vehicle. The passenger car with the highest overall satisfaction score is the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
There are twenty-eight Vehicle Satisfaction Award categories. At the manufacturer level, multiple top ranked award winners include: General Motors (eleven categories), Toyota (nine categories), Ford (six categories), Volkswagen (four categories), Honda (three categories) and Hyundai (two categories).
“Cadillac wins the Vehicle Satisfaction Award as the top brand in a close race. Strong satisfaction performance by Cadillac cars and trucks has Cadillac winning over other leading luxury marques including Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW says AutoPacific president George Peterson. “Top ranked finishes by Cadillac’s Escalade, CTS and DTS helped cement their industry topping position.”
Peterson continues, “Vehicles that are all new received top rankings in several categories: Cadillac CTS, Honda Accord, Mitsubishi Lancer, Scion xD, Toyota Sequoia, Audi Q7, Buick Enclave, Hyundai Veracruz, GMC Acadia, Saturn Vue and Nissan Rogue. These new-for-2008 vehicles were strongly rated by their owners showing that the industry continues to improve as new vehicles are added to the hotly contested American car and light truck markets.”
From a vehicle type perspective, Traditional Sport Utility Vehicles received the highest ratings as a class closely followed by Crossover Sport Utility Vehicles. Peterson says, “Clearly, SUVs continue to be one of the most popular and satisfying vehicle types available in the USA today. Even with skyrocketing gas prices, SUVs are attractive and Crossover SUVs fill the bill for most SUV buyers with better fuel economy.” Cars scored slightly below industry average followed by minivans and pickup trucks.


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Ford Announces EcoBoost Powertrains

In past discussions with Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s product development czar, he has stressed that Ford would be making their cars and trucks much more efficient by reducing their weight and using higher technology engines. One of the first examples of that strategy was when Ford dropped the V8 engine from the powertrain plan for the upcoming Lincoln MKS sedan and will use a twin turbo V6 as its high performance powerplant.

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While we can’t fathom a Lincoln flagship without a V8, the proof is in how it drives and what the durability and reliability of a turbo powertrain turns out to be. In AutoPacific and VehicleVoice Internet research car buyers generally opt for displacement (larger) and less engine technology (non-turbo, for instance). The old adage that “there is no replacement for displacement” generally holds true. But we can’t ignore the issues of Global Warming (if it exists) or higher gas prices or impending CAFE rules that force new technology.
Ford has laid out its powertrain philosophy in an early January press release shown below the fold…
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Mercury Montego Wins AutoPacific 2007 Ideal Vehicle Award for Large Car:

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The Mercury Montego (now Sable) is the Ideal Large Car for 2007. Clearly, Ford designers and engineers understood the buyer they were designing the Montego for and hit the target. Montego was rated particularly favorably in its segment with respect to visibility, technology level and wheel style. The one area where Montego was rated substantially lower than the segment average was power and acceleration. This is second IVA win for Montego having won the inaugural IVA award in 2006. Upgrading from the 3.0L V6 to the 3.5L V6 for the 2008 Sable should eliminate the Montego’s power and acceleration deficiency.


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2008 Mazda Tribute – Still Great Crossover SUV

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OK, the Mazda Tribute has been around for years. Mazda has practically forgotten about it. There is very little advertising for the Tribute especially since Mazda has its more modern and upscale CX-7 and CX-9 Crossover SUVs to pitch. Because Tribute lives in the shadows of its “more important” brethren it is easy to forget about it. That’s a shame, because the Tribute is a fine Crossover SUV overall, with only a few warts that could be corrected with very little investment or cost.

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Mazda Tribute Derived From Ford Escape – Sweet Spot Among Crossover SUVs
Over the years, AutoPacific has had Ford Escape Crossover SUVs in product clinic research. Since introduction the Escape and its derivatives – the Mercury Mariner and Mazda Tribute – have represented the sweet spot among small to mid-size Crossover SUVs. Easy to live with, easy to get into and out of, good interior package. Wow. Very well thought-out and executed. Ford knew the solution to the SUV equation when they developed the Escape and Mazda benefits.
One of the advantages of the new 2008 Mazda Tribute and the 2008 versions of the Escape and Mariner are that they have more differentiation than they have ever had before. You can actually tell which is a Mazda, Ford or Mercury at a glance.
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Not big, not small, the Tribute is a handy size. Easy to maneuver. Easy to see out of. Reasonably large rear seat and usable cargo area. All product attributes that measure up to a pleasant and affordable package. For a bit over $23,000 this Mazda Tribute is an excellent value.
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Nitpicks – NVH and V6 Finesse
What are the problems? Well, there needs to be some work done on engine noise and road noise. Not insurmountable problems. The venerable 3.0L V6 engine pleasant around town but thrashy when pushed. I’d love to drive a Tribute with Ford’s new 3.5L V6, but that’s not in the cards.
No Passion? But Would Make a Great Car for a Young Driver
What did the office say? Of course, folks around the AutoPacific and VehicleVoice offices have strong opinions about vehicles like the Tribute. One gray hair contended that when describing all the virtues of the Tribute the one word that was not mentioned was “passion” or and other word “enthusiasm”. True enough, but the Tribute, overall can be a very persuasive package without being headturning or making your blood run hot.
Others in the office observed that the Tribute would make a great vehicle for a teenager just out of high school and going off to college. The Tribute has enough room for the driver and a few friends plus the cargo room to carry their stuff. In fact, my high school buddy Bill Spiers in Metarie, Louisiana just bought one for his youngest daughter as a graduation present. She was pleased to say the least.
Also, as Bill learned, the Tribute can be found with tremendous discounts that make buying a Mazda a much better deal than a Honda CR-V or a Toyota RAV4.


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2007 Chicago Auto Show: Mercury Revives Sable Name

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Montego Gets A New Engine, A New Look, and An Old Name
Having decided that they cannot afford to give up the equity of the Taurus and Sable names, with the 2008MY facelift, these names return (click here for our comments on Ford’s name changes, as the Five Hundred gets renamed Taurus and Freestyle the Taurus X). Ford presented these changes at the 2007 Chicago auto show complete with all the statistics backing up the fact the customers don’t know what Montego is, but they know Sable. To the tune of three times as many consumers recognizing the Sable brand as the Montego brand. At least the name, as this new Sable is nothing like the first twenty years of Sable. In summer 2007, the Sable returns to dealers, and Mercury will have to find another excuse if sales don’t pick up.

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What the statistics don’t do is explain why a consumer coming into a Mercury dealer looking for a Sable would not be convinced to buy a Montego or Milan. If Montego sales have been disappointing to Ford, a name change is not the magic wand to fix the problem. Mercury stands a good chance of selling more Sables than Montegos more because of the product changes that come along for the 2008MY than the name game.
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The biggest shortcoming of the Montego was its weak powertrain, which was more bland than its styling. In fact, the 2006 Montego won AutoPacific’s first Ideal Vehicle Award by virtue of its great package and ergonomics. With the 2008MY Sable, a 260HP 3.5L DOHC 24v V6 replaces the launch 3.0L V6, gets a six-speed automatic transmission, and delivers this extra power without a decrease in fuel economy. There is an exterior and interior update to go with the name and powertrain changes. Suspension setup doesn’t change, but was revised and retuned, and there is a new power steering system with an intelligent electric pump. All-wheel drive is still offered, but is a new system now that the CVT is gone.
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The new front fascia and headlights takes cues from Mariner and Mountaineer, successfully dressing up the Sable. Taillights and rear fascia are also revised, and there’s more chrome to be found. Overall, the exterior changes give the Sable more sophistication than the Montego carried, and the updates to the Sable are the most successful and attractive of the three new models (Taurus and Taurus X also received similar updates). We also notice that Mercury the Sable name in more places and more prominently on this new version than they did Montego badges on that car; Sable is on the rear decklid and both sides of the car. The Montego wore its name only on the rear. That alone will make it easier for consumers to know what they are looking at.
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Inside, changes include a revised sound package for much-improved NVH. The options list expands to include Ford’s new voice-activated hands-free in-car communications system, Sync, developed with Microsoft and a standard auxiliary input jack. The Sable also gets optional two-tone interior with contrast stitching, taking a page from the Milan and Fusion’s interior schemes.
The updates to this vehicle promise a more competitive vehicle, with a more interesting exterior look and a powertrain that competes in today’s market. At the end of the day, Sable’s success will be all about the product, just as Montego’s weak sales were all about the product. A good name won’t sell a bad product just as much as a bad name won’t slow sales of a great product.


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Stuck to the Dealer's Floor – Inventory Numbers Tell the Story

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Which cars and trucks are planted to the dealer’s floor? In other words, which vehicles take the longest to sell? Who cars? Why does it matter, anyway?
Well, while it may not seem that important to you, it’s critically important to the industry s a whole… from the manufacturese, component suppliers, dealers and quite a few financial institutions. First, if you know the time it takes to sell a vehicle, you know how much it is dragging on the dealer’s floorplanning costs. Floorplanning is the term for the amount it costs the dealer to finance the a vehicle in inventory waiting to be sold. If a vehicle has been hanging around for weeks, he’ll be more likely to deal aggressively to get rid of it. Also, vehicles that have high days supply may be less popular. From that perspective, they may be the ones you want to stay away from.


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2008 Mercury Mariner

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Mercury Introduced 2008 Mariner in Miami
Mercury surprised those at the 2006 South Florida International Auto Show in Miami with a reveal of their 2008 Mariner. Both the Mercury Mariner and the Ford Escape on which it is based are being updated for the 2008 model year, with sales scheduled for early in 2007. Reviewing the first pictures and information reveals a sharper and more distinctive look, but the carryover powertrain lineup is not going to help Mercury win over any buyers. Along with the show reveal, Mercury launched a site where consumers can sign up to get more information on the new Mariner.

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Mariner gets all new sheetmetal and a significant update to the interior. The new SUV stays about the same size and keeps its traditional shape, losing the lower body cladding to help with a more grown-up look. The new face, with a larger and more substantial waterfall grille, helps the Mariner look taller, stronger, and more purposeful than the outgoing version. Detail touches include a Mercury badge integrated into the housing of new headlights, which now wear chrome eyebrows. Though keeping the more traditional SUV proportions, Mariner is still a front-drive-based, unit-body transverse-engine “car-based” SUV.
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Mercury Mariner Hybrid – Wins Motorist's Choice Small Crossover/Utility

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AutoPacific Take on Mercury Mariner Win – Mercury Mariner Hybrid wins the Small Crossover vehicle Motorist’s Choice Award®. Owner ratings for its image and size strongly contribute to its class-leading performance. Additionally, owner ratings for Mariner’s braking and handling reinforce its feeling of safety while driving.
IntelliChoice Analysis – Our first and only Hybird in the inaugural Motorist’s Choice award program, the Mariner blends many of the attributes other manufacturer’s envy. With an amazing estimated 5 year Cost of Ownership a stunning $7000 less than competitive vehicles in it’s class, the Mariner is a true star in the Mercury stable.


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Motorist's Choice Awards – a New Benchmark Rating Automotive Excellence

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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.
WINNERS
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.


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Mercury Milan* Wins AutoPacific 2006 Ideal Vehicle Award for Mid-Size Cars:

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The all-new Mercury Milan is a clear winner among Mid-Size Car competition. Milan, the Ideal Mid-Size Car, achieves its category leading performance with near ideal ratings for exterior size, interior storage, power and acceleration, right down to the ideal size of the wheels and tires. *The Mercury Milan also topped its category in AutoPacific’s 2006 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards.
The Milan is a suburban cruiser and commuter car. Not a sport sedan, Milan is best suited for tooling around town in quiet comfort. Milan shows good attention to detail especially in package-related areas like ingress/egress, ergonomics and visibility. While Milan’s owners give its powertrain near ideal ratings, I’d love to drive one with the 50 extra horsepower the 2007 Lincoln MKZ (nee Lincoln Zephyr) is going to get from its new 3.5L V6 engine.


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