DETROIT — What do many people say when surveyed about the importance of vehicle-cupholder design and size? For one thing, they lie.

So says George Peterson, president of AutoPacific Inc., an automotive consulting and opinion research firm. He participated in a panel discussion, “Designing for Demographics,” at the Ward's Auto Interior Show here.

He says an AutoPacific survey asked new-car buyers to rate the most important vehicle attributes. Cupholders ranked relatively low on the polling, with only 31% of respondents saying they were important.

But says Peterson: “That's a lie, because even though time and again people in surveys say cupholders are not important, in focus groups it is one of the most emotional issues.

“German auto makers still don't understand it, even though they think they do. American auto makers get it,” he says.

German auto makers belatedly put cupholders in their vehicles in the North American market, holding to the premise that vehicles are driving machines, not open-beverage carriers. Bowing to U.S. market demands, the Germans finally installed cupholders, but didn't seem to put much effort into it, according to critics.

Peterson tells of how angry car buyers become when cupholders are inadequately designed and not up to the task of embracing a super-sized Mountain Dew.

“We had a focus group of Americans who own German cars, and German designers were watching the discussion through a one-way mirror,” he says. “One of the focus group participants suddenly said, ‘I know designers are behind that mirror, and let me tell you something about your crummy cupholders.’ And the rest of the group goes, ‘Yeah!’”

Peterson foresees a day when even home-market German vehicles will have state-of-the-art cupholders.

“The German autobahn is getting more and more drive-through restaurants, so cupholders eventually may become more important over there,” he says.