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Auto Quality Found in Whole Experience, Says Strategic Vision

SAN DIEGO--June 2, 2003--New vehicle buyers determine quality by the whole experience, not just parts, says San-Diego based research firm Strategic Vision. The company today released the results of its 2003 Total Quality Index(TM) (TQI), that measures the complete ownership experience, including the emotions generated -- the same criteria buyers use to measure quality.

Problems reported in other indices didn't keep owners of vehicles such as the Mini Cooper (912 out of 1000 possible) and the Hummer H2 (902) from rating them highly. "Minor problems detract little," says Strategic Vision President Dr. Darrel Edwards, "when the overall experience, and especially the emotional response, is so positive."

Though imports headed the majority of segments, the domestic auto manufacturers, particularly General Motors, are making gains. New vehicle buyers rated GM tops in three segments with a tie in a fourth. Ford, after four years out of the winners' circle, won in two segments.

BMW remained the highest scoring brand, while Cadillac moved into second place, ahead of Lexus and Mercedes. Compared to full-year 2002 results, it was the most improved brand. "People who buy Cadillac today are really pleased with their products," says Daniel Gorrell, Strategic Vision vice-president. "Now the task is to convince non-owners to take a look."

New vehicle buyers rated the following tops in their segments:

   Small Car                            Saturn Ion
   Compact Car                          Chrysler PT Cruiser(a),
                                        Pontiac Grand Am, VW Golf(a)
                                        (tie)
   Mid-Size Car                         Honda Accord
   Larger Car                           Oldsmobile Aurora(a), Pontiac
                                        Bonneville (tie)
   Small Specialty (less than $25,000)  Mini Cooper
   Mid-Specialty Car                    Honda Accord Coupe(a)
   Near-Luxury Car                      Infiniti G35
   Luxury Car                           BMW 5 Series, Mercedes Benz
                                        S-Class (tie)
   Convertible (less than $30,000)      Ford Mustang
   Convertible (more than $30,000)      Porsche Boxster
   Minivan                              Honda Odyssey(a)
   Small SUV                            Hyundai Santa Fe
   Medium SUV                           Kia Sorento / Toyota
                                        4Runner(a)(tie)
   Large SUV                            Ford Excursion
   Near-Luxury SUV                      Volvo XC 90
   Luxury SUV                           Land Rover Range Rover
   Compact Pickup                       Subaru Baja
   Full-Size Pickup                     Chevrolet Avalanche 1500
                                        (a)  2002 Total Quality
                                             Award(TM) winner

Among the Japanese makers, Honda was the only multi-segment winner with three. Infiniti G35's top honors in the near-luxury car category were the first for the brand. Subaru led one segment, and Toyota had a tie with its redesigned 4Runner.

Korean manufacturers Hyundai and Kia continue to improve, especially their newer products. Both won sport utility segments (Kia in a tie with the redesigned Toyota 4Runner), and all Hyundai vehicles, except Accent, were above segment average. The XG 350 outscored mid-size rivals Volkswagen Passat and Toyota Camry.

Despite gains by the domestics, Volkswagen remained the top-scoring full-line corporation, followed by Honda, Nissan and Toyota. At 932, the Porsche Boxster was the highest rated model.

Size and price increases caused realignments in some segments. Perennial winners Volkswagen Golf (six in a row) and Chrysler PT Cruiser (three in a row) are now pitted head to head, resulting a three-way tie with Pontiac Grand Am.

TQI measures satisfaction as consumers define it: the whole experience of buying, owning and driving a new vehicle. "Our goal was to measure quality as new vehicle owners define it," says Dr. Darrel Edwards, Strategic Vision president, "and that meant the index had to be as complex as people, specifically new vehicle buyers, are.

"At the heart are measures of the values and feelings that drive decision-making," says Edwards. "These are the key to what buyers really want. Recognizing this hierarchy of emotions brings consumer needs clearly into focus."

Strategic Vision surveyed more than 31,000 October-November buyers of 2003 models at least 90 days after their purchase. TQI is then calculated from the responses in a very complex correlation of expectations, emotions, and attributes.

This is the ninth year Strategic Vision has calculated the Total Quality Index(TM), beginning in 1995. It also releases a Problem Impact Measure(TM), Total Value Index(TM) and Total Delight Index(TM) that further examined buyers' responses to their new vehicles.

The research firm, founded in 1986, studies consumer and constituent decision-making on a variety of topics in diverse industries. Clients include various auto manufacturers, Coca-Cola, American Airlines, and Procter and Gamble.