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Luxury SUV and non-luxury car shoppers are the most inclined to consider alternative fuel vehicles. Not surprisingly, consumers looking for trucks are the least likely, according to a 2013 study from Phoenix Marketing International (PMI). Fuel-efficient "clean diesel" luxury SUVs from German automakers are warming up luxury SUV shoppers to alt-fuel powertrains like electric, hybrid, hydrogen or natural gas – but those options haven't been enough yet for truck shoppers.

PMI collected data for analysis in January, July and October of 2013, and asked consumers about their willingness to consider an AFV on their next purchase or lease. The study asked, among other things, how consumers are responding to advertisements. Consumers have been generally responding positively to ads that promote hybrid or alternative fuel offerings, says Phoenix senior analyst Kevin Severance.

About half of the automotive consumers in the study weren't strongly for or against AFVs. Luxury SUV consumers and non-luxury car consumers were "very" or "extremely" likely to consider an AFV purchase, at 35.8 percent and 35.7 percent, respectively. Most hybrid and EV offerings are in the non-luxury car category, so that was sort of a no-brainer. What about luxury SUV shoppers? We suspect they will be quite interested in upcoming luxury EVs like the Cadillac ELR, the BMW i3 or i8 and the Tesla Model X.

"It's difficult to say whether consumers who are looking for a technologically innovative luxury SUV would be willing to consider a technologically innovative luxury car."

Severance told AutoblogGreen in an email that, "We know that luxury SUV consumers tend to appreciate the extra perceived safety and comfort that often comes with larger vehicles, and luxury consumers in general (read: those in higher income bands) tend to be attracted by innovative technology. It's difficult to say whether consumers who are looking for a technologically innovative luxury SUV would also be willing to consider a technologically innovative luxury car like the ones you mentioned, which would certainly lack the size and associated utility of a luxury SUV."

Diesel vehicles weren't included in the study, since its definition of AFVs focused primarily on non-petroleum vehicles. Diesel vehicles have played a transitional role for consumers in attracting interest from prospective luxury vehicle consumers, Severance said. Severance wrote that "stressing the type of performance from which diesel vehicles often benefit (added torque, better fuel economy, etc.), in addition to stressing the innovation associated with the technologies, could be an effective strategy."

Reaching truck shoppers is a much bigger job, according to the study. Diesel trucks, fuel-efficient gasoline pickups, and natural gas-powered pickups haven't been enough to gain more interest yet from consumers of trucks. Phoenix has seen it work best when fuel economy is paired with performance. A good example of this has been the recent ad campaign with actor Denis Leary telling viewers that the 2013 Ford F-150 offers the "best combination of torque and fuel economy." Read more in the press release below.
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Phoenix's 2013 Research Shows Best Targets for Alternative Fuel Vehicles are Luxury SUV and Non-Luxury Car Consumers

Truck Consumers are the Least Likely to Join the Hybrid/Electric Movement

Phoenix Marketing International's Automotive Practice has released findings from its 2013 research regarding purchase consideration of alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs). Throughout the year, the Automotive Practice collects data from consumers who were recently or are currently in the market for a new vehicle, and asks them about their willingness to consider an AFV on their next purchase or lease. Data for this analysis were collected in January, July, and October of 2013. Phoenix data show that consumers in the market for luxury SUVs and non-luxury cars are the most prone to consider an AFV. For the study in question, AFV refers to vehicles powered by electricity, hybrid system, hydrogen fuel cell, or natural gas.

PMI's Automotive Practice is well-versed in brand health and advertising effectiveness tracking for familiar marques across the industry. Insights they draw from the firm's continuously running syndicated audit provide competitive intelligence on trends in branded communications and consumer perceptions. Phoenix Analyst Kevin Severance notes, "We've seen a generally positive response to ads that promote hybrid or alternative fuel vehicle offerings. Just mentioning the availability of a hybrid tends to get consumers' attention as it serves as a proxy for other concerns like fuel economy and innovation. Seeing the positive response to advertising with the hybrid/electric message, we also wanted to measure the willingness to follow through on that response and actually consider purchasing an AFV."

In 2013, Phoenix finds that about half of all automotive consumers aren't strongly for or against the AFV movement, i.e. their likelihood of considering one for purchase is neutral, so the important differences lie in the extremes. Luxury SUV consumers and non-luxury car consumers came in with the highest percentages of those inclined ("very" or "extremely" likely) toward AFV purchase consideration at 35.8% and 35.7%, respectively. What's not surprising are the results for non-luxury car, given that most hybrid and electric vehicle offerings are available in that category, but why luxury SUV consumers? Severance comments, "Diesel powered models, many from the German brands, have been around for at least a few years, so consumers in the luxury SUV category have had a chance to warm to the concept of vehicles running on something other than conventional gasoline. Couple that with the notion that AFVs partially embody the latest in automotive technology, which our research has shown, and there is a winning combination in the minds of luxury SUV consumers. Perhaps Tesla was right to go after the entirety of the luxury market with the development of Model X after its Roadster and Model S."

The same cannot be said for consumers of trucks, who have also had plenty of time to warm to the idea of alternative fuel with diesel offerings in that category. Phoenix data show they are the most averse to considering an AFV with 19.8% "very" or "extremely" unlikely to consider one for purchase – that is significantly higher than consumers who are averse to AFVs in any other category. Truck consumers are also the least inclined to consider an AFV at 25.7%, which is statistically lower than consumers in all other categories except non-luxury SUV.

Phoenix will continue to track AFV purchase consideration by collecting data in the first month of ever quarter beginning January 2014.

Phoenix measures advertising performance across five vehicle categories (non-luxury car, non-luxury CUV/SUV, truck, luxury car, and luxury CUV/SUV) and tracks the brand health of leading automotive companies in two segments (luxury and non-luxury). Data are collected monthly from 1800+ U.S. consumers who have recently purchased or are currently in the market for a new vehicle. Brands tracked for advertising and brand data include Acura, Audi, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Ford, GMC, Honda, Hyundai, Infiniti, Jaguar, Jeep, Kia, Land Rover, Lexus, Lincoln, Mazda, Mercedes, Mini, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, Ram, Range Rover, Saab, Scion, Subaru, Suzuki, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo.