Carmakers seeking to strengthen their image by using brand-name components may want to focus on the tires and stereos, where most consumers look for names they know and trust, according to the findings of research by JD Power.

In its 2002 Global Component Branding Study JD Power says that sixty-eight percent of respondents in the United States, Japan and Europe believe it is important to have branded tyres and 53 percent feel the stereo brand is important.

"It's not surprising that tyres and stereos are the leading components consumers indicate they would pay to upgrade," said Frank Forkin, partner at JD Power and Associates. "Adding a tyre brand that consumers recognise and view favourably or a stereo brand they equate with superior sound quality can positively impact the automotive brand, the component brand and the consumer's purchase decision."

However, the importance consumers place on branded automotive components differs from region to region.

"Tyre recalls in North America have certainly raised consumer awareness of tyre brands, with more than four out of five US consumers placing high importance on knowing the brand of tyre on their new vehicle," Forkin said.

"Conversely, fewer than one in five Japanese consumers place any importance on tyres being branded."

The study measures the relative strength of a brand based on consumer awareness, familiarity and overall image of each brand. Michelin, Pirelli, Goodyear and Bridgestone have the highest brand strength among the 17 tyre brands included in the study.

According to the study Michelin's brand is the strongest in the US and European regions, with Bridgestone the clear leader among Japanese consumers.

Bose, Sony Pioneer, Alpine, Kenwood and Blaupunkt have the highest brand strength among the 26 car stereo brands included in the study. Geographic differences are more pronounced across audio brands, as Bose is strongest in the United States, Sony in Europe and Pioneer in Japan. Other car stereo brands such as Mark Levinson, Bang & Olufsen, Nakamichi, McIntosh and Harman/Kardon, have a strong, positive impression among consumers, but relatively low awareness.

"These high-end brands still have a place in co-branding partnerships with automakers, but automakers need to target the right consumers by carefully selecting the vehicles they place these brands in," Forkin said.

"A brand represents the quality and value associated with a manufacturer, but brand recognition and what that brand stands for varies from country to country. In today's global market, a brand that may be known for quality, safety or prestige in one country may be viewed as cheap or unreliable, maybe even unknown, in another."

Power says that co-branding also goes beyond traditional automotive component brands. Automotive manufacturers are increasingly associating their vehicles with established brands that reflect personal lifestyle, such as Eddie Bauer, Nautica and Coach. The study also investigated other potential co-branding opportunities with 36 designer and household brands. Casual designer and tool brands such as Craftsman, Levi's, Black & Decker, Dockers and Eddie Bauer brands are mentioned often by US consumers as brands that best reflect their personal style.

In Europe, consumers are more likely to associate with high-end designer brands such as Calvin Klein and Armani. Japanese consumers relate better with brands such as Nike, Levi's, Polo Ralph Lauren and The Gap.

"Automakers realise that a vehicle is a reflection of the person who drives it and that it's not just transportation," Forkin said. "People want a vehicle that is an extension of their personality and lifestyle."

The 2002 Global Component Branding Study is based on feedback from 15,857 consumers in the United States, Japan and Europe.

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