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New Cars Coming Closer To Giving Us What We Want

Thursday, 16 Jul 2009 | 9:43 AM ET
AP

It's the one thing auto execs constantly worry about. Making sure the launch of a new or re-designed model hits the target.

It sounds simple, but historically there are numerous cases where an auto maker puts a new car or truck in showrooms and it falls short of expectations.

Sometimes woefully short.

Lately though, the new or re-designed models are giving customers more of what they want. J.D. Power has released its APEAL (automotive performance execution and layout) study which looks at how well new models deliver what customers want.

The good news: this years APEAL score for all-new and redesigned models averages 790 on a 1,000-point scale. That's 11 points higher than last year and the highest in the three years of the study. Furthermore, the domestic auto makers have closed the gap with foreign competitors. The domestics trail by just five points in the latest survey, compared with 15 points in 2008 and 27 points in 2007.

So why are buyers happier with what they are seeing in showrooms?

Much of it is because new car buyers are more satisfied with the fuel economy of their new ride.

J.D. Power admits some of that satisfaction is due to lower prices at the pump, but the fact more people are buying four cylinder models also plays a role. The growth, and acceptance of more fuel efficient four cylinder engines has picked up in the last two years. The fact that four bangers are no longer pint size econo-boxes helps explain why people like driving four cylinders.

But beyond that, my gut says new car buyers are happier because what they are driving now comes with better quality, improved styling, and the features people truly want. That sounds simple, but it's something the industry struggled with in recent years. Remember when navigation systems first came out? People complained the systems were not user friendly and in some cases a feature that was a pain in the butt. Same thing with the first generation of entertainment systems.

These days the sat nav and entertainment systems in new models are more advanced, better integrated, and easier to use. No wonder new car buyers are happier.

Check out the latest APEAL Studyfor yourself and see how your favorite model ranked. There's good news in the study for Volkswagen (4 models among the top ranked) but more importantly, there is good news for all auto makers and buyers: the new cars and trucks are doing a better job of giving us what we want.

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Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com

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  • Phil LeBeau is a CNBC auto and airline industry reporter based in the Chicago bureau and editor of the Behind the Wheel section on CNBC.com.

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