The 5 Car Features That Matter Most to Consumers

Social media data helps explain how Americans really pick their rides

People buy cars for all sorts of reasons. Some choose a car for functional reasons — like longevity or affordability — while others opt for a shiny trophy meant to impress. Some buy for pleasure, some for business. Some pick cars to match their lifestyles, while others choose a car to change their lives. Speed, safety, size — there’s a seemingly endless list of factors that go into buying a car.
With so many variables, how can we hope to decode the mysterious process of buying a car? Can we uncover, among the thousands of idiosyncratic reasons that go into a vehicle purchase, the key factors and features that consumers most often take into account when deciding to buy one car over all the others?

The answer is yes, through social media data. Since 2010, there have been millions of social posts about cars. Within that is a smaller, though still massive, number of posts about specific auto brands and features. By using social media analytics to filter out all the noise and focus on the conversations relevant to purchase intent, we were able to identify the five car characteristics that matter most to consumers.
In this post, we’ll explore each of those five topics and analyze the conversations to see what matters to consumers and how the top-five selling brands in the US stack up.

Filtering the Car Conversation

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the social conversation surrounding carmakers has a lot going on. Consumers share tips, milestones and, of course, jokes about car brands all the time.
On an individual level, the vast majority of these social posts don’t help us better understand the car features that matter most to consumers. But when we look at the conversation as a whole — and sort it by phrases and terms that come up again and again — we can start to detect trends and patterns.
Here’s a word cloud of common words in the car conversation on social media.

Many of these are simply common, general words that come up often in many conversations, not just car-related ones. ‘Good,’ ‘first,’ ‘pretty’ — we can understand how these relate to cars, but they don’t necessarily relate to the specific features that consumers care about.

The Feature List

When we boiled the car feature conversation down, we ended up with a list of five features that are most important to consumers:

  1. Fuel efficiency
  2. Dealership service
  3. Reliability
  4. Sporty feel / sleek design
  5. Performance / handling

Again and again, these topics surfaced in our analysis of the car conversation, more often than not paired with a specific brand or brands.

The Big Five

As the social posts above show, much of the conversation about particular car characteristics is tied to specific car brands. In fact, the conversation about car features is essentially inseparable from the branded auto conversation.
Which raises a natural and important question: How do the top five car brands compare in terms of the five most important characteristics?

To answer that question, we used social media analytics to pull out the conversations around the five top-selling car brands in the US — Ford, Chevy, Honda, Toyota and Nissan — and ranked them according to how frequently they were mentioned in conjunction with the five characteristics we outlined earlier.
This chart helps us quickly see how US consumers think about the top-selling car brands. When it comes to fuel efficiency, for example, Toyota leads the pack — for every 100 conversations about fuel efficiency, Toyota is mentioned five times. On the other end of the spectrum, Nissan and Chevy are each mentioned fewer than three times.

Toyota and Ford lead the way

As the chart makes clear, Toyota and Ford top the list in each of the categories (although leading in the ‘dealership distress’ category isn’t anything to brag about. In the eyes of US consumers at least, these two brands do a good job of owning the conversations around the features that matter most.
There’s a lot to learn from this analysis. Nissan and Chevrolet, for example, has a fair amount of ground to make up if they want to own these important discussions — combined, they only crack the top two once.

The Bottom Line

This information is invaluable for automotive brands. Knowing how consumers view your brand — in conjunction with the aspects of your industry that matter most to them — is instrumental for making the right decisions about everything from product design and innovation to advertising and PR.
This is true in any industry, but especially so for automotive, where purchases are complex and lucrative. We may never know exactly why an individual consumer buys a Honda over a Toyota, say, but using a massive dataset like social media can help us uncover patterns and trends that, taken as a whole, can help us answer the most important question: what matters most to consumers when they decide to buy a car.
Want more insights on how consumers feel about top automakers? Download our full report on the top 5 car brands in the US here:

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