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Poll Finds U.S. Car Owners Consider Foreign Cars as Higher-Quality, but Prefer to Buy American

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DULLES, Va.--According, to a new poll* from the Associated Press and AOL Autos (, a majority (58%) of U.S. car owners believe that foreign manufacturers make the best quality cars, yet only 17% stated that they actually preferred to buy foreign as opposed to American (38%). In addition, 70% of respondents stated they would seriously consider buying an alternative fuel vehicle, while just 38% said that the ability to run on alternative fuels was a very or extremely important factor in ultimately choosing an automobile. The poll also questioned Americans about who they consider the best car manufacturers, the possibility of purchasing a Chinese-manufactured car, as well as their thoughts on hot new car technologies, options and model styles.

Foreign vs. Domestic:

Nearly half of all Americans (44%) believe that Japan makes the best quality cars, out-pacing the United States (29%) and Germany (15%). College-educated car buyers are even more convinced, with 55% stating Japan makes the best quality cars, while those with less education were more likely to state that the U.S. produces the best quality cars (34%). Despite this overwhelming belief, only 17% of car owners said they preferred to buy foreign cars. Senior Americans (61%) are the highest in favor of buying American, while women under 45 and those with college degrees (24% each) are in favor of buying foreign cars. When asked which manufacturer, domestic or foreign, produces the best cars, a quarter of American drivers stated Toyota, just beating General Motors (21%). Honda ranked a solid third with 17%.

With a Chinese manufacturer expected to make its U.S. debut at this years Detroit International Auto Show, respondents were asked if they would consider buying a car from a Chinese manufacturer. The results were mixed, with nearly half (49%) stating they would consider it, while the other half (49%) saying they would not. Not surprisingly, young people and Democrats were more likely to be open to the idea, while seniors and Republicans were less likely.

Alternative Fuel Capabilities:

Increasingly, Americans are stating they would seriously consider buying an alternative fuel vehicle (70%). Hybrid cars ranked as the most appealing type of alternative fuel vehicle, at 34%, followed by ethanol (16%), hydrogen (11%), and electric plug-in (10%). In contrast, just 38% said that the ability to run on alternative fuels was a very or extremely important factor in ultimately choosing an automobile. When asked about their motivations for considering a car that runs on a fuel other than gasoline, almost half (47%) said it was due to concerns for the environment, as opposed to interest in saving money at the pump (34%). This is evident in the number of drivers (nearly a third) who said they are getting or considering buying or leasing an SUV.

New Technologies and Valued Features:

When examining new car technologies and preferred options, GPS navigation systems, side airbags and anti-lock braking systems top the list. 29% of car owners and likely car owners named GPS systems as the technology that interested them most, with 13% selecting electronic stability control, 12% choosing night vision and 11% opting for blind spot information and night vision systems. Switching to preferred options, 21% of car owners and buyers named side airbags, followed closely by anti-lock braking systems, and 18% choosing navigation systems. Leather was the least popular (2%), with built-in satellite radio, sunroofs and backup camera only generated 3% of the total vote.

Handling, safety record, and reputation for reliability, ranked #1 when comparing a variety of factors (89% each), surprisingly beating price (77%). However, for younger car buyers, price does play an important role, with 86% of those under 35 stating it was very or extremely important, compared with 72% of those 35 and older. When examining car styles and designs, car owners and buyers favor new styles (60%) over retro styles (34%).

These findings represent the issues and dilemmas facing the average car buyer, said Rudi Thun, general manager of AOL Autos. With new competitors and technologies changing the landscape of the entire industry, these findings reflect the current mindset of the American car buyer and should be examined closely by all existing and emerging stakeholders in the automotive industry.


The AP-AOL Autos poll of 1,004 adults and 932 current or future car owners was conducted by telephone from December 19 to 21 by Ispos, an international public opinion company. The margin of error for all adults is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

About The Associated Press

The Associated Press is the essential global news network, delivering fast, unbiased news from every corner of the world to all media platforms and formats. Founded in 1846, AP today is the largest and most trusted source of independent news and information. On any given day, more than half the world's population sees news from AP.

About AOL

AOL is a global Web services company that operates some of the most popular Web destinations, offers a comprehensive suite of free software and services, runs the countrys largest Internet access business, and provides a full set of advertising solutions. A majority-owned subsidiary of Time Warner Inc., AOL LLC is based in Dulles, Virginia. AOL and its subsidiaries also have operations in Europe, Canada and Asia. Learn more at