Saturday, October 11, 2003

Safety becoming top priority for car buyers, experts report

By James Hannah
The Associated Press

DAYTON, Ohio - When Aimee Cunningham bought a Ford Expedition, the sport-utility behemoth that dwarfs most other passenger vehicles on the highway, she was thinking about her baby girl.

"I could have cared less about safety until I had my daughter," said Cunningham, 29, of Springfield. "I want to make sure she's safe. If somebody hit us, it wouldn't be as much of an impact."

Experts say safety has become a growing concern and selling point for many car buyers in recent years, in part because of the perception that the world can be a dangerous place. Consumers cite past highway experiences and changes in lifestyles as reasons.

"It used to be: 'Give me the leather seats, give me the six-CD changer, give me the power sunroof,' " said Eron Shosteck, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

The trade group represents 10 automakers that account for 90 percent of U.S. vehicle sales.

Now, he said, consumers seem more interested in anti-lock brakes, side air bags and stability-control technology.

Last year, J.D. Power and Associates asked 20,000 car buyers how interested they would be in 25 different features that are, or soon could be, in new cars.

Only about half of the 25 features were safety-related, but the top seven as ranked by the buyers had to do with safety, said J.D. Power research manager Mike Marshal. Shosteck said there are several reasons for the increased interest in safety. He said many of the newer technologies are safety-related, so that the newest features on cars have to do with safety.

But he also said today's uncertain world - created in part by the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington - has people looking for ways to protect themselves.

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