Earlier this week, research firm AutoPacific released the results of an interesting new survey. When asked if they would consider buying a Chinese car, even without knowing the specific brand or vehicle, 15% of U.S. respondents said they would. Another 11% said they'd consider one from India. What makes that extremely surprising is that only 16% said they'd consider a vehicle from Korea, and that country's been selling cars in North America for 25 years.
This is what many of us in the auto review field, and even those in the business of building and selling cars, don't always comprehend: the way most buyers think. To us, because we're enthusiasts, the important stuff includes horsepower, handling, ride quality, panel gaps, and features and options. To the average consumer, it's price, reliability, fuel economy, and maybe airbags and stability control. Period.
My sister-in-law just traded in her beat-up, 17-year-old minivan, and only because repairing the air conditioning was a major expense. She went into the dealer with three demands: a/c, good price, hatchback. That's it. She didn't even realize the gearshift surround hadn't been completely snapped into place until I pointed it out and fixed it. And any reviewer or auto exec who smirks at that is completely out of touch with most of the buying public.
Just as I have no more interest in my computer than I want it to boot up every time, connect seamlessly to the Internet, and not eat my work, the vast majority of car owners just want something that starts every time, stops when they hit the brakes, plays music, blows hot and cold air, and goes into the shop as little as possible, at a price they can afford.
The AutoPacific survey found that most respondents ranked reliability and durability highest, and had little interest in vehicle dynamics such as braking, acceleration, and handling. We in the business pick apart the Chinese cars at the auto show, and wonder if they'll ever make inroads over here. Well, we said that about the Korean cars, too, and look what happened. The global market is coming. Underestimate the new imports and overestimate the average customer at your own risk.