American motorists have rated the latest generation of cars, trucks and crossovers as their most appealing ever — or, if you prefer, their most “APEAL”-ing, according to a new study by J.D. Power.
Driven by all-new and completely updated vehicles like the BMW 4 Series, the Ford Bronco Sport and the Genesis G80, 2021 model-year vehicles received their highest score ever in the annual Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout Study, which asks owners about everything from performance to styling, as well as the level of comfort and exhilaration they feel behind the wheel.
“One of the biggest factors driving the industry’s improvement this year is the introduction of several highly appealing new models,” said David Amodeo, director of global automotive at J.D. Power.
“The product launches that took place this model year have done a really good job. Some are all-new and some are redesigns, but the new launches demonstrate that automakers are getting even better at hitting buyers’ emotional triggers.”
Getting it right can offset things gone wrong
The APEAL study’s release comes barely two weeks after Power revealed the results of another closely watched report, the 2021 Initial Quality Study. The IQS focuses on “problems” consumers report. In industry speak, it’s a “things gone wrong” study, while APEAL examines “things gone right.”
There’s often a correlation between the two. Dodge, which tied Porsche in APEAL, with a score of 882 points out of a possible 1,000, also came in second in this year’s IQS. But some other brands, as well as some individual models, rank high in one study, and do poorly in the other.
Tesla is a case in point. The EV manufacturer isn’t formally included in either APEAL or IQS because Tesla refuses to give Power access to owner information in 15 states. That said, the research firm got to owners in 35 other states. Based on those responses, Tesla would have scored a record 893 points, clearly topping the APEAL chart by a substantial margin. On the other hand, it would have come in as the third-worst brand in Power’s IQS, due to a stream of quality, design and reliability issues.
That gap, Power officials explain, shows how vehicles that “surprise and delight” owners can sometimes overcome quality problems. And, they add, high APEAL scores typically translate into high brand loyalty — which means consumers return to buy the same model, or at least the same brand, repeatedly.
Some models get it all right
“The Maxima also is the highest-scoring model in both studies, a remarkable achievement and the first time ever for a mass market model,” Power noted in a statement. The Nissan brand, as a whole, delivered the biggest improvement in this year’s IQS, gaining 22 points compared with last year and climbing three spots among mainstream brands, to land in third place.
On the whole, “premium” brands scored highest in the 2021 APEAL — as has been the norm since the study was originally launched. But the average score for those luxury marques, at 864, was only slightly higher than the 845 average for mainstream brands. And the gap continues to narrow, according to Power, as everyday products add more features, improve performance and roll out more appealing designs,
Closing the gap
Significantly, the gap between top- and bottom-ranked brands was far narrower than in the quality-based IQS. Acura and Infiniti, tying for last in the Premium category with 842 points, came in just 40 points behind official leader Porsche. Among mainstream marques, Chrysler came in at 826 points, 56 below Dodge.
Chrysler was also the lowest-ranked brand in the latest IQS, due to a broad range of quality issues, noted Power Executive Vice President Dave Sargent.
There are a number of ways in which APEAL and IQS differ. Historically, all-new or completely updated products often score poorly in the Initial Quality Study because of the initial snags and snafus common in the industry.
On the other hand, owners often respond favorably to those same products because they add new features, improve performance or fuel economy, and introduce new designs, according to Power.
The research firm called out seven models as examples: BMW 4 Series, Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Bronco Sport, Genesis G80, Kia K5 and Toyota Sienna, among traditional, gas-powered models, and Ford Mustang Mach-E as the first all-electric offering to officially score among the top models on the market.
An EV first
Ford’s battery-electric vehicle was ranked number one in the Compact SUV segment, in fact, besting traditional models like second-place Nissan Rogue, and third-ranked Mazda CX-5.
Among manufacturers, General Motors had more winners in the APEAL study’s 19 vehicle segments than any other, with a total of five. BMW came in close behind, with four segment winners. The Hyundai Motor Group had three, as did Nissan. Ford had two winners, and Daimler, Honda, Jaguar Land Rover, Stellantis, Toyota and Volvo each had one.
The 2021 APEAL study results were based on 110,827 owner surveys. It focused exclusively on 2021 vehicles and was conducted between February and July of this year.