By on August 2, 2007

bovytroph_06_small2.jpgTTAC has not been shy about its scepticism regarding the owner satisfaction and quality surveys produced by JD Power, and the commercial links to the industry that they monitor. We have also pointed out that Consumer Reports' "secret sauce" (i.e. their analytical formulae) have certain limitations. Until now, we've overlooked another source of auto manufacturers' braggin' rights: the Intellichoice awards. While you'll hear Intellichoice mentioned in the same breath as JD Power in more than a few automotive advertisements, Intellichoice's awards don't get nearly the same scrutiny. It's time to correct this oversight.

Intellichoice offers awards in five broad categories: Motorist Choice, Best Deals of the Month, Best Overall Value, Smartchoice (with six subcategories) and Best Certified Pre-Owned Programs. They subdivide each of these categories by vehicle type, e.g. car, crossover, near luxury and convertible. Many of these categories are subdivided even further. I counted no less than 240 permutations, and I could have missed a few.

If that wasn't confusing enough, cars jump from class to class depending on the award. The Toyota Yaris was named "Best Overall Value – Subcompact Class." But when it comes to the "Low Ownership Costs" award, the Yaris lives in the "Compact" category. The Chevrolet HHR is the "Small Wagon" winner for "Low Maintenance Costs" but "Compact Crossover SUV" winner in the "Motorist Choice Awards." For the same award, the Lexus IS is the "Aspirational Luxury Car" but it's in the "Near Luxury Class" as the "Best Overall Value of the Year."

Intellichoice also categorizes certain cars differently from everyone else. Did you know that the Nissan Altima is a "Premium Mid-Size Car" and the Porsche Boxster is a "Luxury Convertible"?  Apparently, the Honda Accord is a "Compact" ("Lowest Maintenance Cost") and the Lexus SC 430 is a "Premium Sports Car"– except when it's a "Luxury Convertible" ("Lowest Repair Costs").

Another mystery: why do certain vehicles receive awards when the exact same model with a different body style (i.e. coupe vs. sedan) doesn't make the grade?  Intellichoice names the aforementioned Toyota Yaris named "Best Value – Subcompact Class" is only the hatchback model; the four-door wasn't included. Several pickup truck awards were given to the crew cab and extended cab models while the standard cabs stood on the sidelines.

After looking at Intellichoice's wide selection of seemingly arbitrary accolades, you can't help but feel that the gongs fall into the same category as kindergarten sports awards. Both processes seem aimed at preserving the delicate self esteem of a bunch of five-year-olds. Last year, almost every company that sells a car or truck in the U.S. received at least one Intellichoice award. Even floundering Isuzu was awarded "Lowest Maintenance Cost" in the "Small Pickup" category. 

This "something for everyone" mindset extends to a few of this website's Ten Worst Automobiles Today (TWAT) winners. The dead van walking Chevy Uplander won "Best Overall Value" in the "Cargo Van" category. It's almost-as-bad corporate cousin, the Buick Rendezvous, won an Intellichoice award for "Lowest Maintenance Costs" in the "Midsize Crossover" class. And the TWAT-worthy Aveo5 won in the "Subcompact Class" of the same category. 

It's obvious that a lot of awards given out by various magazines and newspapers are influenced (if not totally driven) by the pursuit of the almighty advertising dollar.  But even though there are links to get free quotes on vehicles, and links to finance and insurance companies, Intellichoice's website doesn't offer any direct links to automakers' sites or car ads. There's no indication of any outside influences that would entice the organization to devise such convoluted awards and then hand them out like candy.

That is, until you realize Intellichoice.com is owned by Primedia, the same company that brings us Motor Trend and Automobile magazines. While each of these magazines has their own (dubious) annual awards for a variety of vehicles, neither of them approach Intellichoice in number or complexity of awards. But both of them enjoy plenty of lucrative automobile manufacturer advertising revenue. These same manufacturers also drop big bucks for advertisements in other Primedia's other magazines.

Running a web site as timely and data rich as Intellichoice is an expensive business. Not to belabor the point, but the money to run their site comes from Primedia, which gets the majority of its revenue from advertisements. You don't bite the hand that's feeding you. Intellichoice has to keep Primedia's advertising clients happy. And if that means coming up with a few hundred awards to give out (some on a monthly basis), then so be it. 

And there's the fundamental problem. Just as an award for "Most Improved Left-Handed Pattycake Player" only resonates with the recipient's mother, the awards handed out by Intellichoice mean nothing to anyone but the manufacturers. Considering the low profile of most of these awards, you have to wonder if they mean anything at all.

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27 Comments on “The Truth About Intellichoice Awards...”


  • avatar
    Mud

    If you actually use Intellichoice “awards” as a basis for purchasing a vehicle then you deserve what you get.

  • avatar
    compy386

    Intellichoice is one of the most confusing website I’ve ever seen. First of all, they don’t count rebates are part of value. This is pretty stupid because it’s free money. Also their categories are confusing as hell. I remember researching similar vehicles with one being an “outstanding” value and the other being below average. However, if you look at the actual cost of ownership, they’re practically the same. Intellichoice feels however that vehicle A belongs in a category that’s more expensive than vehicle B. This is why I prefer a site like Edmunds that offers better data. Still better is just checking sales prices on Ebay. Hard to do with new models though.

  • avatar
    AKM

    It’s almost-as-bad corporate cousin, the Buick Rendezvous, won an Intellichoice award for “Lowest Maintenance Costs” in the “Midsize Crossover” class.

    Unsurprising, given that no one owns one…

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Category shopping for prime pickings is a favorite pastime of the automakers. When you get your ass kicked in one category you have the consolation of being number one in things like ” greatest number of cuphholders in a mid-sized luxery car” area.

  • avatar
    jaje

    Isn’t there another company (Strategic something) that provides awards soley based on emotion of the new owner.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    That would be Strategic Vision.

    Another day, another expose. Go get ’em, Frank!

  • avatar
    Sanman111

    You know, while reading this article I was reminded of the senior awards we had in my high school. Practically half the class won a scholarship or award, the highlight being the poor bastard who sat there for three hours to get the Driver’s Ed award (they didn’t tell you what you won till you showed up). I can see why a car might switch categories given the marketplace, but the intellichoice awards are just pointless. The swithcover would make more sense if they broke it down by price or size. Of course they won’t do that. And let’s not forget Karesh’s point about the fact that the “lowest maintainence cost” award may not mean much if you only win by a few cents.

  • avatar

    If you actually use Intellichoice “awards” as a basis for purchasing a vehicle then you deserve what you get.

    Most people do not care about cars as passionately as the readers of TTAC; they’re just looking for some advice in order to get a decent car. They don’t know how empty the Intellichoice awards are, all they know is that it seems legit, and therefore they trust the the implied value of an award from Intellichoice.

    B Moore – Autosavant.net

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Motor Trend and the other magazine rags, along with “Intelli”choice, a number of other self appointed experts and to a lesser extend, JD Power, are focused on 1 thing: make money. They make money through 2 avenues – advertising and subscriptions. Everything else comes after this, including “best of” selections.

    These surveys and magazines should more rightfully be called entertainment. Doesn’t mean they’re wrong, just “based on a true story”.

    BTW, since no one knows the secret sauce that goes into Consumer Reports ratings, it’s not verifiable data that gets presented back to consumers. Doesn’t mean it’s wrong, though.

  • avatar
    Hippo

    Commercial chicken choking.

  • avatar

    Does anyone know of somebody ever actually buying a car based on either Intellichoice or Strategic Vision?

    I actually do give credence to Consumers Reports because not only have their findings mirrored my own, but when I was younger and pooh pawed their low ratings on the cars I wanted to buy, Ieventually found out that they were spot on correct/

    These kind of ratings systems can only have credibility with consumers, if they actaully are accurate and if they match what consumer actually will experience. You know if you say a car is a great car it better be a great car.

  • avatar
    CeeDragon

    I’m finding it a bit hard to work up rightous indignation to the Intellichoice Awards. After checking to see if I still had a pulse, I think I know why:

    They are so utterly and blatantly contrived that the vast majority of car buyers should be able to comfortably ignore them.

    ” greatest number of cuphholders in a mid-sized luxery car”, indeed, GS650G!

    What gets my blood boiling are the awards from the major car mags, such as Motor Trend and Car and Driver. They put on a nice veneer of logic, standards, and such, but are clearly biased. These are the awards that the auto showrooms proudly display to “car guys”.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the comments, all. As the Publisher of IntelliChoice, this editorial was sent to me for my thoughts by a friend. Glad he did, as allows me address the key criticism.

    We entered into a partnership with AutoPacific for the Motorist Choice awards when we determined that the current state of vehicle information was locked into ‘data-driven’ or ‘survey-driven’ advice. Depending on individual perspective, one or the other make more sense to buyers and ends up guiding many purchase decisions. But by combining our databases, we hoped to provide information to buyers that will them chose a vehicle that will ultimately reward their emotional sense as well as their economic sense. Nothing sinister here.

    The contrasting segmentation issue is a result of combining these databases, and I agree that it can be confusing if you strictly compare to IC’s own data. But in the context of this larger partnership and our goal of providing relevant guidance that had not yet existed in the Auto Industry, it makes perfect sense.

  • avatar

    And before you get all pedantic on me, yes, I miswrote this line “…to buyers that will them chose a vehicle…”. Should be “…to buyers that will help them choose a vehicle…”

    Life in the BlackBerry era.

  • avatar
    blautens

    Flujo –

    Glad to see you posted here. I’m not sure that the category irregularities are the key criticism of the article, just one of the issues that people have with Intellichoice. Love to see you address any of those other ones – for instance – Primedia’s influence in Intellichoice’s “awards” selection process.

  • avatar

    Flujo:

    I would like to hear the exact methodology used to determine the winners of these awards.

  • avatar
    Vetteman

    The buick Rendevzous low maintenance award is shamefull. I have worked 35 years at a GM dealer and that pontiac Aztek clone was in all my years experience one of the worst cars I have ever seen. I had nothing but pity for the hapless customers who were unfortunate enough to have purchased one. Gm full size trucks pretty good , their cars pretty lackluster. No one that has a clue will buy a GM car. Fortunately the public knows how little faith you can put in these awards and also magazine articles. Jd powers has been a joke for years as Gm has used them to manipulate the dealers and the public media.

  • avatar

    “blautens” – I do not expect many of the pessimists to believe this on face value, but “The Truth About Our Awards” is that there is ZERO influence from PRIMEDIA. All of our results are based 100% on empirical computed data – not a drop of editorial influence from driver/buyer surveys, the IntelliChoice team, or from “above”. (By the way, we are now owned by Source Interlink, so that old argument has expired.)

    “Robert Farago” – check out http://www.intellichoice.com/press/2007_motorist_choice for a full description of our new methodology.

    And thanks for this opportunity!

  • avatar
    AGR

    Its interesting to see another perspective to “measure” vehicles. How does the average consumer weigh all this information, and will it really influence their final choice and decision.

    Or will the “financial package” offered with any vehicle influnece their decision.

    On a 36 month lease basis, does the consumer really care about maintenence costs, about longevity, about retained value. It might be annoying having warranty work done.

    On a 60 to 72 month finance the same thing, in 36 months some manufacturer will come up with a deal to steal business from another manufacturer, and subsidise an upside down trade in.

    What happens when the low scoring vehicle that is in inventory for too long, and the manufacturer puts an aggressive program on the vehicle?

  • avatar

    We at IntelliChoice are aware that there is a ton of great information from many different sources available to help guide purchase decisions. As previously mentioned, not all buyers are enthusiasts like us and many are just looking for a bit of solid advice and “peace of mind”. All we endeavor to provide is a unique and tangible bit of “ammunition” that can be very helpful when exposed to salesmanship of the average dealership. And down the road a bit when that new car is now not-so-new and might be worth less than the financed or leased amount.

    AGR makes good points on how many vehicles are acquired these days, but for other types of buyers that are looking for the least financial pain, our data is invaluable. Espcially our “Best Deals of the Month” analysis that incorporates the most recent market conditions and their potential impact on a particular vehicle’s “value”.

  • avatar

    Methodology:

    “The Motorist Choice Awards were calculated by combining IntelliChoice.com cost of ownership data with AutoPacific’s customer satisfaction survey data.

    AutoPacific surveys 45 different vehicle ownership attributes and, of these, 38 product-focused attributes were used. Each of the product attributes generates a score between 5 and 25, allowing a maximum possible score of 950, which is then normalized to 1000. The actual scores range from 495 to 756.

    The remaining seven attributes focus on cost of ownership and are addressed by IntelliChoice.com. These attributes include Depreciation, Financing, Fuel, Insurance, Maintenance, Repairs, and State Fees. IntelliChoice.com rates vehicles based on the vehicles’ total ownership cost against the vehicles’ total expected cost.

    To merge the IntelliChoice.com data with the AutoPacific rating system, IntelliChoice.com ranked each model within the 25 different segments. A conversion formula was then used such that the best model within the IntelliChoice.com analysis received the equivalent score as the best model within the AutoPacific analysis, and the worst model received the equivalent score as the worst model within the AutoPacific analysis. This conversion was done for each segment of vehicle.

    The final step was to combine the AutoPacific score with the converted IntelliChoice.com score. This was accomplished by creating a weighting for each segment based on the AutoPacific importance scores from the 45 attributes. The average importance score from the product attributes were weighted against the average importance score from the ownership cost attributes. The AutoPacific and IntelliChoice.com scores were combined through multiplying the AutoPacific Score by the product attributes weighting and the IntelliChoice.com score by the ownership cost attributes weighting, and then adding the two scores together.”

  • avatar
    skor

    Are people actually influenced by these “ratings” and “awards”?

    I know at least two people who bought cars based on Motor Trend’s “Car of the Year” award.

    A neighbor bought a Seville(M/T COTY 1992) based on the M/T recommendation. This man was an aerospace engineer with many years experience.

    A co-worker –another engineer– bought a 1980 Chevrolet Citation for the same reason.

    If engineers can get taken in by these bogus awards, I’m guessing Joe Six-Pack is a pretty easy mark.

    Have a look at the entire M/T COTY list to see what a joke it really is.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motor_Trend_Car_of_the_Year

  • avatar
    NickR

    “Aspirational Luxury Car”

    The what?

  • avatar
    blautens

    Mr. Farago’s post of the Intellichoice methodology speaks for itself. Whoever came up with that should be proud of themselves.

    It’s almost as funny as when I submit meaningless weekly status reports with completely manufactured terms, projects, and acronyms, just to highlight the fact that no one really reads them.

  • avatar
    spj911

    This coupe/sedan thing reminds me of when Angelo’s Coney Island in Flint beat out Bill Thomas Halo Burger in the best hambuger & cheesburger competition. Can’t remember who won which award, but bascially one won the best hamburger and the other one the best cheesburger. I guesss a slice of cheese can REALLY mess up an award winning burger.

  • avatar
    hltguy

    This all sounds like the awards the entertainment industry is constantly giving themselves. Every week another awards show. Every b grade actor or singer gets an award at one time or another, and if they can’t figure out what award to give them for a “performance”, they get a “humanitarian award” or “lifetime achievment award” or “I’m 21 years old, filthy rich, sick of life and hooked on crank award”.

    In the immortal words of Sally Fields “You like me, you really like me”

  • avatar
    hltguy

    LOL on the hamburger/cheeseburgers awards in Flint.


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