Fuel efficiency, safety innovation, and vehicle styling will be the three most important product issues influencing automotive consumer purchase decisions over the next five years, indicating a perceived shift in buying priorities, according to the 12th annual global automotive survey conducted by KPMG LLP, the U.S. audit, tax, and advisory firm.

When asked to rate the importance of product attributes to consumer purchase decisions over the next five years, “fuel efficiency” was most frequently cited in the 2011 survey (91 percent), followed by safety innovation (82 percent), vehicle styling (77 percent), and environmental friendliness (75 percent). 

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Safety innovation (71 percent in 2010) and vehicle styling (61 percent in 2010) were among the factors seeing the most significant increases in perceived importance compared to last year’s survey results. 

Consumer preferences for ergonomics and comfort, and telematics-personal assistance services also rose significantly, according to the KPMG survey.

“Competition is driving the production of higher quality vehicles that incorporate new technologies for better performance and an enhanced driver experience,” said Gary Silberg, national automotive industry leader for KPMG LLP. “As a result, today’s consumer has come to expect a great deal from their vehicles. That innovation is benefiting the consumer across the entire vehicle category spectrum.”

When asked which vehicle categories will see global sales increases over the next five years, hybrid fuel vehicles (84 percent) were most frequently named by the respondents, followed by electric vehicles (77 percent), which was a new category option in the survey this year, cars (69 percent), other alternative fuel vehicles (63 percent), basic or introduction cars (60 percent), crossovers (56 percent), SUVs (51 percent), luxury vehicles (46 percent), small pickup trucks (45 percent), minivans (41 percent), and large pickup trucks (27 percent). 

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The vehicle categories seeing the most significant response increases in the 2011 survey compared with 2010 were SUVs, luxury vehicles, large pickup trucks, and crossovers. 

“Executives believe that these categories are here to stay, that consumers are drawn to them, and that success lies in competitively producing the best vehicle within each category,” said Betsy Meter, national audit leader for KPMG’s automotive practice. “What we are also seeing is more optimism across the board for vehicle sales following the economic downturn.”

Conversely, responses for hybrid vehicles dropped in 2011, and basic or introduction cars fell more than 20 percentage points from last year. In fact, Hans Flick, national tax leader for KPMG’s automotive practice noted that executives appear to indicate that the idea of entry level cars may not have met expectations.

“It may just be that even emerging market customers new to the car market look for all the features and comforts of a standard car,” said Flick.

KPMG interviewed 200 global executives, representing vehicle manufacturers and suppliers, from October through November. KPMG has released an annual survey of automotive executives expressing their views on the state of the industry since 1999.

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More at www.us.kpmg.com.