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Affluent buyers: giving a chance to US carmakers

In a wide-ranging study of affluent car buyers this year (household incomes of $50,000 and up), a clear majority indicated they are eager to give United States carmakers a chance. Some 64 percent said they had no particular loyalty to any manufacturer, foreign or domestic, while four-fifths said they expect major innovations to come from Detroit.

Despite the expectations from Detroit among those who plan to buy a new car in the next 12 months, 39 percent plan to buy an import, a substantially higher figure than in the 1982 study.

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More than half said that their interest in cars is higher than in the past.

Research for the study was done by J. D. Power & Associates of Los Angeles for the Knapp Communications Corporation, which did its first automotive study in 1982.

It's clear that all car buyers today are making fewer quick decisions on the cars they buy. The steady climb in new-car prices, plus the cost of money to finance their purchase, is forcing an increasing number of buyers to think twice before signing on the dotted line.

This places more emphasis on highly informed salespeople who know more than the color, option list, and price of the cars they sell.

In the affluent-buyer survey, 83 percent said they felt the need to be much more informed about the cars they seek out, placing technology ahead of luxury. Even though they may think, judge, and buy on image, ''they also expressed the need to be more informed,'' the study reports.

While 70 percent said they shop the market with a specific make or model in mind, many of them are open to ideas from fair, knowledgeable, and motivated sales personnel. The day of the order taker has passed.

Of those who intend to buy a new car this year, 11.8 percent said that Ford was their first choice, 9.2 percent cited Chevrolet, 9.2 percent Oldsmobile, 8.1 percent Cadillac, 7.7 percent Buick, and 5.5 percent Dodge.

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Among the imports, 5.5 percent named Nissan, 5.1 percent Honda, 4.8 percent Mercedes-Benz, 4 percent Toyota, 2.2 percent Porsche, and 0.7 percent Volkswagen.

While the intent to buy a new VW was low, Volkswagen ownership in the $50,000 -and-up market (purchased new) was No. 1 among European makes (5.4 percent).

Interestingly, when affluent car buyers ''think American,'' they think of domestic cars as being family cars, while an image for high quality is pinned on the Europeans. The prevailing image for Japanese cars is ''small and low price.''

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