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Diving deep into Power’s soft data

DETROIT -- J.D. Power and Associates’ annual Initial Quality Study always gets more attention than the APEAL Study, even though the data are drawn from the same massive pool of respondents.

But I like ’em both, especially when the unexpected pops up.

And today, the APEAL Study (formally the 2012 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout Study) shows that all those folks downsizing their car purchases aren’t suffering, aren’t sacrificing, and in fact like their new smaller vehicles as well as the hulks they traded in.

How’s that? Going green doesn’t hurt? Not even a bit?

Nope, says Power’s study guru, David Sargent.

Turns out, buyers score today’s average small cars exactly the same as they did mid-sized cars in 2008. And noting that current buyers are trading in 6-year-old cars, Sargent says features and equipment advance “so fast that the cars they are moving into are superior to what they are moving out of.”

Back to IQS having more industry street cred than APEAL. I’m not really surprised that “things gone wrong” appeals more to this industry than “things gone right.”

As a group, we love quant, things we can count. Like mistakes. Hey, that’s broken. One. And that’s poorly designed. Two.

But APEAL measures how much buyers like the vehicles they bought. Try to count like. This car goes like stink. Um, is that a one or a two?

And our quantitative inner ego recoils. Oh, that’s just soft science.

And APEAL is inevitably skewed in favor of luxury brands. You know, those expensive vehicles with cool features, big engines and fine interiors. Porsche has been rated as the top brand in the study for, oh, eight years now.

It’s no accident that luxury brands took the top 12 places this year and economy specialist Suzuki finished last. Buyers know they get what they pay for -- that expensive brakes work better and smoother than bargain brakes.

As Sargent dryly puts it: “Fast, large and premium scores better than slow, small and cheap.”

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