New vehicle buyers in the United States are increasingly accepting of import brands, and those who purchase domestic vehicles are less likely to cite an aversion to imports as a reason for buying a domestic brand, the JD Power and Associates 2005 'avoider' survey showed.

The survey of 34,000 buyers who registered a new vehicle last May, examined the reasons consumers failed to consider particular models when shopping for a new vehicle, and found that fewer new-vehicle buyers felt the need to "buy American."

As import sales increase in every region of the United States, the most notable change has taken place in the South, where only 34% of domestic-vehicle buyers said they specifically didn't want a foreign/import vehicle -- down from 40% in the 2004 study.

Avoidance of Korean-made vehicles, for example, has declined considerably in the south - from 41% of domestic-vehicle buyers in 2004 to 31% in 2005.

Hyundai opened its Alabama assembly plant in misd-2004 and commenced full production of Sonata sedans in early 2005.

"Kia, in particular, has publicised goals of focusing more marketing efforts on the central region of the country, and they are right in doing so, particularly in the south," said JD Power spokesman Dennis Galbraith. "Although Kia does not build any vehicles in the United States, many vehicles from import brands are now built in the south, and attitudes there are changing rapidly."

Some manufacturers are putting their promotions and incentives where they will do the most good, and others are not. For example, BMW offers full maintenance for four years or 50,000 miles. This is a clear response to the fact that fear of high maintenance costs are a more frequent reason for avoiding BMW, Jaguar, Maserati and Mercedes-Benz vehicles than is the case with other luxury brands.

The study also found that, while the full-size pickup truck market remains a vital profit centre for Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge and GMC, domestic trucks are more frequently being purchased because of incentive programmes rather than perceptions of reliability.

"Domestic trucks often have a negative reputation for reliability among truck buyers, even those who buy domestic trucks," said Galbraith. "The domestic truck market is especially vulnerable to imports. The most common reason domestic truck buyers have for avoiding imports is that they don't want to buy an import, but many buyers are beginning to abandon that reasoning."

The study found that few domestic truck buyers questioned the quality or reliability of imports. For example, the Honda Ridgeline, a mid-size truck from a company new to the American truck market, benefits from the brand's reputation for reliability. Despite the Ridgeline's innovative styling, 49% of owners cited either reliability or workmanship as the most influential reason for their purchase, while only 8% say vehicle styling was the most influential reason.

While domestic brands overall have improved in the quality studies conducted by JDP, the frequent promotional shift toward price incentives may have drawn attention away from product quality messages.

"Marketing research suggests a positive correlation between price and product-quality perceptions among consumers.  In other words, consumers often believe that if vehicles are high quality, automakers would be able to charge more for them," said Galbraith. "The good news for Detroit is that the quality of domestic vehicles is higher than many people perceive it to be. The bad news is that quality perception, not reality, rules the marketplace. Quality perceptions will be slow to improve if manufacturers are constantly advertising that they are selling their vehicles for less than they initially intended."

Asian imports also deal with misconceptions in the marketplace. The study found that new-vehicle buyers more frequently avoid Asian imports because they perceive the vehicles to be too small than is the case for domestic vehicles of nearly identical dimensions. This is often the case for the Toyota Sequoia when compared to domestic SUVs of a similar size, and the Nissan Titan when compared to full-size domestic trucks. However, this misconception appears to be much less of a concern in the midsize van segment.