Fewer than one-half of new-vehicle buyers show a strong familiarity with newly launched models during the shopping process, while nearly one-third are not aware of new models at all, according to the JD Power and Associates 2004 Avoider Study.

The study, which examines the reasons consumers fail to consider (avoid) particular models when shopping for a new vehicle, finds that low awareness levels of launch models makes landing on the consideration list of new-vehicle buyers increasingly difficult.

"The first hurdle for any launch model is generating awareness, which is a difficult feat considering the large number of new models launching into an already crowded marketplace," said a JDP spokesman. "Most manufacturers hope that attractive styling of a new model creates a buzz in the marketplace and encourages consideration from consumers. While launch models are more likely to attract customers due to styling, these models are also more susceptible to styling avoidance since the design is new to consumers and therefore prone to incur both ridicule and praise."

Reliability, quality and resale value continue to play critical roles in the reasons new-vehicle buyers avoid particular models. Although the quality gap between domestics and imports continues to narrow, domestic models are far more likely to be avoided by consumers because of perceived reliability concerns than are Japanese and European models. While styling is the most-often-mentioned reason import buyers cited for avoiding a domestic model, 38% mention concerns about reliability, 25% mention poor quality and 25% say the vehicle will depreciate too fast.

"Overcoming negative perceptions of poor quality that exist among consumers is a great challenge for manufacturers, even after quality issues have been corrected," said the spokesman. "Repeatedly emphasising these improvements may eventually weaken old perceptions and level the playing field on the issue of quality and reliability between domestics and imports."

Despite the fact that many import models are built at US plants, many consumers display a strong sensitivity to a brand's origin, particularly in certain regions of the country. Imports are avoided significantly more often than domestics in the Midwest, South and Northeast. The lone exception is in the West, where the levels of avoidance for both imports and domestics are equal.  The gap is strongest in the Midwest, where 53% of domestic vehicle buyers avoid an import because they specifically did not want a foreign/import vehicle, compared to just 27% of import buyers who specifically didn't want a domestic brand. Imports are also often avoided either because shoppers believe they cost too much, the vehicles are too small, or because incentives weren't offered.