New car buyers expect efficient and powerful engine technologies at low cost
The US automotive industry has long relied on gasoline-powered vehicles. Only in recent years, due to widely known socioeconomic changes, has a focus on fuel efficiency surfaced. Today, the American consumer is increasingly aware of higher fuel prices and looks for ways to cut back on cost at the pump.
While the majority of American drivers continue to fill up the tank with gasoline clean diesel has emerged elsewhere as an alternative fuel technology providing high-efficiency and low-emissions. A diesel vehicle typically gets 20% to 40% better fuel economy than comparable petrol-powered vehicle, while running on clean low-sulfur fuel. In Europe, this factor has made diesel cars tremendously popular; diesel-fueled cars now account for approximately 50% of light-duty vehicle sales.
In the U.S., clean diesel fuel technology has been offered by just a few automotive brands such as Audi and Volkswagen. Is the American consumer ready for clean diesel? Brands such as Volkswagen seem to think so (see: Clean Diesel IQ Study) and the automotive market has been reporting encouraging sales figures (see: Double-Digit Growth for diesel in the U.S.).
But what do potential car buyers think of clean diesel? Do old perceptions hold their ground? What can we learn from online consumer opinion to help brands such as BMW, Mazda and Mercedes-Benz better market their new diesel entries, which are scheduled to launch this year?
We at Crimson Hexagon were curious to learn if some of these questions can be answered by tapping into social media conversations. Crimson Hexagon’s ForSight™ social media analysis gives automotive brands the ability to understand their consumers and learn from their unsolicited opinions shared online.
In this ForSight platform graph of a clean diesel analysis, we see a breakdown of social media conversation about clean diesel in Twitter and Facebook in the past year.
While it is not surprising to see fuel economy dominating the conversation, we find that conversations around power and torque have increased over 18% in the past year.
As we dive deeper into the social data, we discover that the proportion of conversation related to the cost of owning a diesel car spikes as fuel prices peaks. Though perceptions of loudness and pungency persist, this is a not a dominant part of the conversation and could be addressed by automotive brands with targeted messaging.
Volkswagen Jetta TDI
To gain a different perspective on the conversation, we analyzed online conversations around Volkswagen Jetta TDI, which is one of the few brands in the market with consistent sales figures since 2009.
To our surprise, we discovered that fuel economy is a minor discussion point. For the Jetta, as well as clean diesel overall, engine technology is a major conversation driver. We also see that a nearly half of the conversation revolves around hybrid comparison, which presents an interesting positioning opportunity for automotive manufacturers.
Overall, we discovered that engine technology and cost-of-ownership are top of mind for consumers as it relates to clean diesel. Based on this unsolicited consumer feedback, one could argue that a market opportunity exists for new clean diesel models delivering improved fuel economy and performance at a lower cost.
For automotive brands, we see an interesting opportunity for positioning clean diesel as a powerful alternative to hybrid technologies. Any automotive brand looking to launch clean diesel vehicles should consider deeper nameplate analysis as a next step to support preemptive positioning as the launch draws near. Further analysis on hybrid nameplates would be warranted as well to define positioning against this alternative technology.
As a prospective car buyer, one can look forward to an array of clean diesel vehicles being introduced in the US this year. Which engine technology will you choose to power your next new vehicle?
To stay in touch with us and all of our consumer and industry social media analyses, follow us on Twitter @crimsonhexagon.