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New research shows social responsibility key to attracting and retaining car buyers in a troubled economy


DETROIT — A car company’s reputation for being socially responsible is among the most important considerations for car buyers when determining from which companies they want to buy and which they choose to service their vehicles, according to new research from global market research firm Synovate.

In a presentation to the ATX-Consulting4Drive Executive Business Theater at the SAE World Congress this week, Scott Miller, CEO of Synovate Motoresearch, shared the results of three recent Synovate studies that showed in the US and globally consumers are seeking out companies that they believe are acting in society’s greater interest.

Social responsibility and cost of ownership were shown as having the most overall influence on a consumer’s commitment to their automotive brand, while social responsibility had the highest influence on consumers’ emotional motivation.

Consumers also rated manufacturers’ current efforts to bring alternative powertrains to market, showing that Honda and Toyota, not surprisingly, continue to lead the pack, followed much further behind by Ford and GM, Nissan and VW, most of which have improved slightly in this area over the past six months.

While GE is still the only supplier that consumers recognise as bringing alternative fuels to market, perceptions of several suppliers’ efforts to do this declined. However, several energy companies, most notably BP, received higher marks from consumers in this area versus the last time the study was conducted, in August 2008.

However, to be seen as socially responsible, companies must do more than offer fuel efficient and environmentally-friendly vehicles. Other product attributes, such as reliability and safety, strongly influence consumer perceptions, as do employee enthusiasm and the company’s impact on the economy.

“While auto manufacturers are trying to clean out inventory and boost sales of new products, it is critical for them to understand that consumers are paying attention to their overall business practices and weighing those practices carefully,” said Miller. “Consumers are skeptical of almost everything right now: businesses, financial institutions, even the government. They also feel burdened with some of the risk associated with alternative fuel and advanced powertrain technologies including uncertain resale values, perceived concerns about reliability, alternative fuel availability and even the viability of the companies from whom they purchase their vehicles. So they are still looking for more information to help them figure out who they can really trust to do business with in the current environment.”

Synovate Motoresearch, the automotive research division of Synovate, has tracked consumer attitudes on industry efforts in the alternative fuels and advanced powertrain areas since 2002. Its research shows growing consumer interest in advanced powertrains such as Hybrids, mixed with increased concerns over the industry’s ability to address financial and reliability risks to the consumers who buy them.

Another Synovate study, recently conducted with 1,058 car buyers in North America, used integrated Brand Equity, Customer Experience and Loyalty measures to model the statistical relationship between customer touch points and customer behaviour. The results reiterated the importance of the social responsibility of manufacturers’ on car buyer behaviour.

“The results are not just from what people tell us is important, but are actually based on what we can prove influence an automotive company’s relationship with its customers,” said Miller. “I think it’s an important message for the industry and the marketplace - that, despite current economic challenges, consumers are putting their money where their mouths are with respect to corporate behavior.”

Synovate’s global trends group has added to these conclusions by monitoring two trends emerging across several international markets: consumers’ efforts to reduce their exposure to risk and changing consumer behavior in favor of organizations that deliver social benefits through their business activities.

“The question I’m asked most frequently is whether we’re at the bottom,” said Miller. "Regrettably, I think we still have a little way to go, given the pressure that homeowners and the auto industry are under at the moment. I just can’t see purchase behavior turning around that quickly.

"However, I think we all know that we’re close and, more importantly, as we build up from that bottom we will see a lot of movement in terms of market share. Companies that have managed their customer, marketing and media touch points in favor of both the consumer and a broader social agenda will emerge as dominant players in the new industry baseline.

About Synovate
Synovate, the market research arm of Aegis Group plc, generates consumer insights that drive competitive marketing solutions. The network provides clients with cohesive global support and a comprehensive suite of research solutions. Synovate employs over 6,700 staff across 62 countries.

For more information on Synovate visit


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