Owners of U.S. cars like ride, but not reliability Foreign models favored for performance, resale


PRINCETON, N.J. -- A 1991 Gallup Poll of American car owners provides some insight into why sales figures released this week show that U.S. car makers continue to lose market share to other manufacturers, primarily the Japanese.

While American cars score well compared with foreign cars when it comes to comfort, luxury, styling and safety, the U.S. public gives American cars much lower marks on attributes which may be particularly important during recessionary times -- economy of operation, ease of maintenance and resale value.

U.S. motorists rate American cars better than Japanese or German models on six attributes pertaining to comfort and roominess, luxury, interior styling, exterior styling, safety and innovations in styling.

On the other 11 areas tested -- dealing with value, economy of operation and craftsmanship -- U.S. cars score significantly less well.

Perhaps most importantly, less than half of American drivers, between 45 and 46 percent, say U.S. cars are better than Japanese or German cars in overall quality or in value obtained for the purchase price.

The negative data to American car manufacturers includes:

* Fewer Americans choose U.S. cars as being best on responsiveness and performance (44 percent), workmanship and craftsmanship (41 percent), and mechanics and engineering percent) than choose either Japanese or German cars.

* Only 36 percent of Americans say U.S. cars have the best resale value. Fifty-two percent choose either Japanese or German cars.

* Only 40 percent of Americans say U.S. cars need the least repairs or maintenance, while 38 percent choose Japanese and 11 percent choose German cars.

* Only about a third of American drivers say U.S. cars are best in economy of operation or technological innovation. A whopping 55 percent choose Japanese autos as best for economy of operation, and 46 percent say Japanese cars are best in technological innovation. Only 10 percent says German cars are tops in technological innovation.

Further, American cars get much lower ratings in most areas among the affluent, younger market -- those who are under 50 and have high income and high education -- than is the case for the nation as a whole. Education seems to be a more important determinant than age or income in perceptions of car quality.

Additionally, foreign-made cars are more highly regarded among individuals on the East and West coasts. Midwesterners -- living in the heartland of American car man

ufacturing -- are the most favorably inclined toward U.S. cars and the most negative about either Japanese or German autos.

Despite statistics showing that Japanese makes are gaining an increasingly higher proportion of new car sales in the United States, American cars still predominate.

Almost nine out of 10 American households own at least one American auto, while less than four in 10 own a foreign car. One household in 10 has only a foreign car in the garage.

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