By Deepa Seetharaman
DETROIT (Reuters) - Stylish, more fuel-efficient cars helped Hyundai Motor Co <005380.KS> see a larger improvement in its vehicle appeal this year than any other major brand, according to a survey released on Wednesday.
Hyundai rose to 15th place from the No. 28 spot in 2010,
J.D. Power & Associates' survey of 32 brands showed.
The launch of a "dramatically better" Sonata as well as the new Elantra fueled Hyundai's improvement, said Dave Sargent, J.D. Power's vice president of vehicle research.
Vehicle models with high appeal scores tend to generate faster sales, higher profit margins and need fewer cash incentives. Higher scores also have an influence on customer recommendations.
Chrysler Group LLC's
J.D. Power surveyed 73,000 consumers who bought or leased a new 2011 car or truck between February and May. They were polled 90 days after making their purchase.
During that time of the survey, fuel prices shot up at the pump. Because they were paying more for gasoline, consumers gave their vehicles lower fuel economy scores, Sargent said.
"They're unhappy because they're paying more fuel," Sargent said. "They sort of blame the vehicle, even though it's not really the vehicle's fault."
But scores for vehicle models that got more miles per a gallon fared better than their gas-guzzling counterparts, Sargent said. This likely helped Hyundai and Ford Motor Co
"Relative to other brands, Ford and Hyundai are looking better this year than they were last year in terms of fuel economy satisfaction," Sargent said.
The closely-watched survey showed that overall vehicle appeal was a 781 on a 1,000-point scale, the highest level since the survey's inception in 1996.
Luxury or performance topped the list with Porsche in the No. 1 slot with a score of 879. Suzuki was the last-ranked brand with a score of 734.
Hyundai scored a 793, up from 760 last year. General Motors Co's
(Reporting by Deepa Seetharaman; editing by Carol Bishopric)