Asian carmakers seen to hold edge on US soil

Asian carmakers are better placed than their US rivals to take advantage of shifting patterns in American buyers’ loyalty to a vehicle type, according to an industry study.

The study by JD Power & Associates, one of the industry’s leading research groups, based on data from 7,300 outlets, shows that small cars – where Toyota, Honda and Hyundai are strong players – are replacing other types of vehicle at a growing pace.

JD Power estimates that the small-car segment will double to 2-3 per cent of total sales during this decade.

Makers of small cars have the added advantage, according to JD Power, of strong brand loyalty when owners trade up to a bigger model.

Tom Libby, senior director of automotive industry analysis, told a Society of Automotive Analysts conference on Wednesday that this loyalty hurt Chrysler and Ford that did “not have an entry into the compact basic [smallest car] segment”.

General Motors is represented in both segments. According to JD Power, owners of GM’s small Korean-built Chevrolet Aveo are most loyal among small-car owners, with about 40 per cent sticking with Chevrolet when they buy a new vehicle.

Owners of large pick-up trucks, a segment dominated by General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, are increasingly switching to cars and cross-over vehicles, where the Asian manufacturers have a strong presence. Crossovers look like sport-utilities but are built on car rather than truck frames.

JD Power estimates that crossovers’ share of the US light-vehicle market will grow from 4 per cent in 2000 to almost 18 per cent in 2010. It currently stands at about 13 per cent.

The proportion of owners of large pick-up trucks buying another one has fallen from 71.6 per cent to 64.1 per cent in the past two years.

By contrast, their preference for cars has shot up from 8.1 per cent to 15.1 per cent.

The shift from big pick-ups to crossovers has also almost doubled.

The market for big pick-ups is shaping up as one of the most competitive segments in the North American auto industry, with GM and Toyota launching new models over the next few months to challenge Ford’s top-selling F-Series.

People who own large GM, Ford and Chrysler pick-ups are steadily migrating to Toyota’s Tundra and smaller Tacoma models, and to a lesser extent, to the Nissan Titan.

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