Vehicle styling grows in importance for new car buyers in India



Style maketh the man – and the car too. In the Indian new car market, research has it – for the fourth consecutive year – that  exterior styling is gaining importance in vehicle appeal, positively impacting customer satisfaction. This is among the findings of the J.D. Power 2015 India Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study which was released today. The India APEAL Study, now in its 17th year, serves as the industry benchmark for new-vehicle appeal. The study measures how gratifying a new vehicle is to own and drive based on owner evaluations during the first two to six months of ownership.

Overall APEAL performance is reported as an index score based on a 1,000-point scale, with a higher score indicating higher satisfaction. The overall APEAL score averages 846 in 2015, down 8 points from 2014. The importance of vehicle exterior has increased in the small car, midsize and utility vehicle super segments and is among the top three categories driving the overall APEAL score. Increasingly, buyers of new models cite attractive vehicle styling as the most influential reason for purchase compared with buyers of carryover models. In addition to attractive styling, newer models differentiate themselves from carryover models by providing more features — including alloy wheels, steering-wheel-mounted controls, hands-free communication, reverse parking assist, anti-lock braking system and dual airbags, among others.

“New-vehicle buyers in India have a much wider range of vehicles to choose from than in the past. Automakers launch several models across segments each year, refining exterior styling and offering more safety, security and convenience features to keep customers engaged and excited,” said Mohit Arora, executive director at J.D. Power, Singapore. “Newly launched models have higher overall product appeal than carry-over models, and auto manufacturers can use mid-life cycle refreshes to update their vehicles and enthuse prospective buyers.” Models launched during the past year have higher APEAL scores than carry-over models. In 2015, satisfaction with newly launched models averages 857, compared with 845 for carry-over models in 2014.

Carryover models are purchased by a higher proportion of first-time buyers, compared with newly launched models (53% vs. 44%, respectively). KEY FINDINGS OF THE STUDY: Satisfaction with overall vehicle appeal leads to loyalty: Among new-vehicle buyers who rate their overall satisfaction as delighted (10 on a 10-point scale), 89% say they “definitely would” recommend their model and 76% “definitely would” repurchase the same make. Adoption of audio/ entertainment/ navigation, safety and driving convenience features increases: Fitment rates of several features in Audio/ Entertainment/ Navigation (AEN) and safety and driving convenience have increased in 2015. Installation rates for anti-lock braking systems and driver and passenger airbags are at the highest levels since the inception of the study 17 years ago. Installation rates for hands-free communication systems and parking assist/ sensors have both more than doubled since 2012. One in two vehicles in India has USB connectivity, and one in three vehicles has steering wheel mounted controls. Vehicles fitted with features are more appealing: Vehicles fitted with features such as those listed above score comparatively higher in overall APEAL, compared to those without these features.

For example, there is a 17-point gap in overall APEAL scores between vehicles fitted with an anti-lock braking system and those not, and a 20-point gap for driver/ passenger airbags. “While feature fitment rates are increasing in newer vehicles, car manufacturers need to regularly track evolving customer preferences and feature options to determine which ones can maximize the cost-to-benefit ratio,” said Shantanu Nandi Majumdar, director, JD Power, Singapore.

Model results by segment Among the eight model-level segment awards, three Toyota cars get awards (Etios, Etios Liva/ Cross and Innova) as does Hyundai (Eon, i10 and Elite i20/ Active). The Volkswagen Vento ranks highest in the midsize segment and the Mahindra XUV 500 ranks highest in the SUV segment. Notably, Hyundai’s Eon, i10, and Elite i20/ Active and Toyota’s Etios and Innova also rank highest in their respective segments in the J.D. Power 2015 India Initial Quality Study (IQS). The 2015 India APEAL Study is based on evaluations from 8,428 owners of new vehicles purchased between November 2014 and July 2015.

The study was fielded between May and September 2015 in 30 major cities across India. The study measures satisfaction across 10 performance categories: vehicle exterior; vehicle interior; storage and space; audio/ entertainment/ navigation; seats; heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC); driving dynamics; engine/ transmission; visibility and driving safety; and fuel economy.