Vehicles like the 2011 Chevy Equinox are attracting young buyers back to the domestic automakers. Click on the image for more photos and information (GM).

    by: Gary Hoffman | AOL Autos

    At long last, Detroit seems to be getting some respect. In the most recent results of an ongoing study, domestic and foreign brands are roughly neck and neck when it comes to how they’re seen by 18- to 30-year-old buyers. According to CNW Marketing Research of Bandon, Oregon, young buyers crucial to the U.S. auto industry’s future are starting to give domestic models the same consideration as imports, potentially signaling a broad-based shift in consumer preferences. Even customers with foggy memories of what it was like to be 30 are paying more attention to the Detroit Three as they shop for new vehicles, analysts say. 

    Climbing Consideration

    That’s a dramatic improvement for Detroit over a decade ago, and a reversal for foreign brands. The study measures “consideration," the first, crucial stage in buying a vehicle.  Too often, it has been the missing piece of the puzzle for the Detroit Three, say analysts.

    Detroit saw a staggering loss of “consideration” from 1995-2005, according to the research firm. In 1995, only 19 percent of what it called “young intenders” would not consider buying a domestic vehicle. But that number climbed to 39 percent by 2000. The low point came in 2005, according to the research firm, when a full 41 percent of young car shoppers had ruled out buying a Ford, General Motors or Chrysler product. 

    It’s no surprise then that Mercury vainly pursued “consideration” in its advertising -- “You’ve got to put Mercury on your list” -- as it tried to pull out of its nosedive over the last few years, one that eventually led to its demise this year.

    But the percentages of buyers that would never consider a domestic brand began to decline as the past decade wore on, while the share of buyers that would never consider imports began to rise. The percentage of young buyers willing to consider either a domestic or an import brand has risen from 32 to 35 percent between 2005 and 2010. Given Detroit’s fall from grace during the 1990s, this can be viewed as a gain for the domestics.

    This graph shows the consideration lent to domestic and foreign brands by 18-30 year-old new vehicle intenders (CNW Research).

    Detroit Fights Back

    The reversal of Detroit’s fortunes comes largely from improved quality and more exciting products, say analysts.

    David Sargent, vice president of global vehicle research at J.D. Power & Associates, credits Ford and GM’s recent wave of new products, along with their newfound enthusiasm for the imports’ traditional turf, the midsize and compact segments. Vehicles like the Ford Fusion, the Chevy Malibu and Equinox, and the Cadillac SRX have helped make the difference, he said.

    "A large part is that the Detroit Three are coming out with cars that are more appealing to consumers than they were previously," he said. “They are increasingly competitive in midsized vehicles, and we are likely to start seeing that happen with small vehicles like the new Ford Fiesta.”

    Analysts agree that vehicle quality – or at least the perception of it – drives consumer consideration. But quality doesn’t simply mean reliability. Consumers also pay attention to quality in design, performance and technology. "It's always the sheet metal at the auto shows," said George Pipas, sales analyst at Ford. "But consumers are extremely value conscious. That doesn't mean a low price. It means they consider the total value equation for product because it is such a big ticket item."

    Still, it has been an uphill battle for Detroit. Perceptions lagged even as its quality edged upward, Sargent said. “They take a long time to change, particularly when they are negative.”

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    In some cases, models advanced in the quality rankings without creating much of a stir. No one really notices when a car model rises from 25th to 22nd in the rankings, for example. “But when you move from eighth to fifth, suddenly people get very excited,” Sargent said.

    The same was true for fuel efficiency. The most fuel-efficient cars from Detroit have gone head-to-head against their counterparts from Toyota and other Japanese brand for several years, with highway miles per gallon usually in the low thirties for midsized cars and low- to mid-thirties for compacts. But imports enjoyed a reputation for greater fuel efficiency, at least until now. Since gas prices soared in 2008, automakers are more likely to advertise fuel economy, and customers are more likely to pay attention to it, analysts say.

    Pipas argues that Ford vehicles’ quality ratings and fuel economy are part and parcel of their appeal. “There's no question that this message is getting out,” he said. “Most consumers look at fuel efficiency as a proxy for quality. If it's fuel-efficient, then that means that care has been taken throughout the design and the engineering of the vehicle.”

    Blame The Boomers

    There are other explanations for the change, as well. One is a generational shift in the market, said Sean McAlinden, chief economics and vice president for research at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Many baby boomers had given up on Detroit’s vehicles, but now, McAlinden says, the post-baby boom generations are giving U.S. manufacturers a fresh start.

    “It was the baby boomers who were most loyal to Japanese makes and made the big switch from Detroit,” he said. “They are beginning to fade now in the market and have been labeled by Detroit executives as the ‘lost generation.’ Many Detroit execs felt they could never make a comeback with that generation and their memories of bad Detroit quality, and that they could only make a comeback with entirely new generations of buyers.”

    Not Just Toyota

    If you’re thinking that Toyota’s recent misfortunes is the root cause of this, understand that the trend can be traced back at least five years, long before Toyota's recall debacle. Analysts agree that Toyota gave the Detroit Three a boost earlier this year, but it should not be overstated. "People have started to move away from Toyota a little, but that may be a short-term phenomenon," Sargent said. “Consumers are still giving the quality edge to Japanese automakers,” he said.

    So Detroit still has a fight on its hands, as do the import brands. And consumers are likely to emerge as the real winners.

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    1 - 20 of 285 Comments
    wetton347 Dec 10, 2010 2:44 PM
    my GMC truck got 428 .489 miles on end still runnning real good all u idiots who buy japs cars are soo stupid end brain dead tell me why in china they love GM cars there they buy more GM cars than here in the usa what that tell u abunt the anmerica people ahh
    Report This
    ayeshayusuf Nov 11, 2010 7:30 AM
    Good Article very useful
    Report This
    hchevy Nov 05, 2010 1:39 PM
    japanarues is just a sympathizer
    Report This
    japanarules Nov 05, 2010 8:51 AM
    Yea OK you own a shop. Yea OK i own this and that blaa..blaaa..blaaa. I own a such and such with so many miles Blaaa..Blaa...Blaaa. My friends, family and me switched to Toyota and Honda and no issues. Like somebody said earlier. The big three are Tonka, Matchbox and Hotwheels.
    Report This
    kamegwolfe Nov 05, 2010 5:36 AM
    Its about time americans are waking up our economy and keeping their purchases inside the US. If this would keep happening our unemployment would dramatically shrink. And we are NOW making a superior product and our pride shows it --keep it up folks
    Report This
    austinbanas Nov 04, 2010 9:18 PM
    Go on youtube and search this video: "American cars/trucks are unreliable,eh?" then tell me what you think about american car quality
    Report This
    austinbanas Nov 04, 2010 9:18 PM
    Go on youtube and search this video: "American cars/trucks are unreliable,eh?" then tell me what you think about american car quality
    Report This
    austinbanas Nov 04, 2010 9:12 PM
    american auto companies have set more million mile records than any other auto maker... i'm sorry japanarules you were saying?...
    Report This
    austinbanas Nov 04, 2010 9:05 PM
    @ japanarules, every mechanic you've talked to!?? take this from a man who owns a auto repair shop and employs over 20 mechanics. foreign cars lack the quality that domestic cars have now, its comical how every time a toyota or honda comes into my shop the mechanics dont even want to work on it, but of course i wont turn down money!
    Report This
    japanarules Nov 04, 2010 8:53 PM
    jakkkflash...no susitute of lifes experences with American cars and Japanese cars. Myself and friends, family and every mechanic i talk to. The world knows it also.
    Report This
    jakkkflash Nov 04, 2010 8:28 PM
    ACTUALLY japanrules my brand new MALIBU was made in KANSAS CITY , KS Fairfax assembly plant and it has 85 % USA content.. in cluding the all important engine and trans...
    Report This
    jakkkflash Nov 04, 2010 8:26 PM
    japanrules... ur brainwashed by consumer reports (distorts)
    Report This
    plrowe3 Nov 04, 2010 8:24 PM
    Glad to hear it. Americans should support their own. The auto makers helped form the middle class in this country. Unions helped obtain safe working conditions and gave its workers the ability to make a decent living and support a family.
    Report This
    warren1cec Nov 04, 2010 8:17 PM
    I have a new ford taurus which looks great and rides even better.All those jap cars look like they were made in poland not japan.They all look the same .No style whatsoever. I have had American and foreign cars. The American car gives you much more bang for your buck and there quality is just as good.Maybe 20 years ago that was not the case but it is now.
    Report This
    japanarules Nov 04, 2010 7:14 PM
    I have been "Off Roading" before and know ********* all about. My point is reliabile transportation and low operation costs. The Japanese cornered the market on it. Even with the Toyota fiasco they still are the benchmark for quality. A crappy Japanese car is as rare as a reliable American auto.
    Report This
    ctryroads Nov 04, 2010 7:00 PM
    japanarules I'm sorry that you feel that way about Jeeps. But, since you are an east-coaster, I'm certain that you have never seen terrain (those are non-pavement places for citified people) where Jeeps excel. Its time for you to experience a real off-road trail, a steep mountain stair-step climb, a 60' sand dune, fording a 3' deep river, crawl over a boulder field or descend a hill so steep that you have to lock the rear wheels with the parking brake and only steer while sliding down. Otherwise, your only option is to drive your little tuner car to the drive-in and continue pretending that you are are an experienced driver.
    Report This
    japanarules Nov 04, 2010 6:37 PM
    If you read the parts content on the window sticker at the dealership the only thing "American" is the name.
    Report This
    austinbanas Nov 04, 2010 6:19 PM
    if you live in the USA and you buy/drive a foreign car... hah thats just stupid, why would you want to support any other countries economy but your own?
    Report This
    japanarules Nov 04, 2010 6:15 PM
    LA is a evil place
    Report This
    japanarules Nov 04, 2010 6:14 PM
    Jeep is junk, end of story. Hey great idea to tax the imports high. That way the greedy pigs will have Americans over a barrel to buy the garbage they turn out.
    Report This
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    Young buyers crucial to the U.S. auto industry’s future are starting to give domestic models the same consideration as imports.


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