Buyers cool toward diesel

  • 06-Aug-2008 02:36 EDT
ET chart from J.D. Power.jpg
Bar graph indicates consumer interest before price is mentioned. The "rank after market price" column indicates consumer interest in features after hearing estimated market price of a given feature. Price quote is listed in parentheses.

­The "clean" diesel engine garnered the least excitement from U.S. consumers who were asked to quantify their attitude toward various emerging technologies in a 2008 study.

“In consulting with suppliers and OEMs, they expressed a keen interest in knowing whether or not U.S. consumers are interested in having a clean diesel engine power their next vehicle. But the responses of more than 19,000 U.S. consumers showed just 6% were definitely interested and only 31% were probably interested in buying a vehicle with a clean diesel engine before the market value price of $1800 was revealed,” Mike Marshall, Director of Automotive Emerging Technologies at J.D. Power and Associates, said about the global marketing service provider’s 2008 U.S. Automotive Emerging Technologies Study.

This year’s study, the ninth such polling of consumers on the topic of emerging technologies, marked the first time that a clean diesel engine with a price included was on the list of emerging technology features that consumers were asked to rate. The study is designed to measure consumer familiarity, interest, and purchase intent both before and after an estimated market value for a given technology is revealed.

“It appears that consumers still have a lot of misconceptions about diesel,” said Marshall. "One explanation for this is that most U.S. consumers are unaware of what a diesel is and is not. The diesel engine of today isn’t noisy or dirty, but the negative connotations still persist."

Michael Berube, Senior Manager for Chrysler Marketing, said the ever-increasing cost of diesel fuel, which is higher in price than gasoline, likely explains why consumers were downbeat about diesel when the study was conducted in April 2008. “There’s a sense of uncertainty. It’s anxiety,” said Berube. For the 2009 model year, Chrysler LLC will offer a diesel-powered Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV as well as diesel power for the Dodge Ram 2500, 3500, 4500, and 5500 trucks.

J.D. Power and Associates also polls European consumers on emerging automotive technologies and that study’s results will be released in August. “There usually are major differences in consumer preferences. As an example, past studies have shown that diesel technology is popular with Europeans, but rear-seat entertainment is not,” said Marshall.

In this year’s study, U.S. consumers were relatively uninterested in rear-seat entertainment systems, as the technology took 19th place (before average price was revealed) with 43% of respondents being definitely interested or probably interested. After being told that a rear-seat entertainment system has an average $1200 market price, the ranking dropped to 20th place.

U.S. consumers remain interested in non-safety technologies. “When a premium surround sound system ranked in the top five—both before and after price reveal—in last year’s study, I thought that was just a blip. But this year’s study also shows an upward trend for many non-safety features,” said Marshall. Before the price was revealed, 67% of the study’s respondents were definitely or probably interested in a premium sound system, 58% felt the same about satellite radio, 57% about HD radio, and 57% were interested in a wireless connectivity system.

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