OTTAWA LAKE, MI – In a survey of U.S. consumers by J.D. Power and Associates, 52% respond they “either definitely want or are seriously considering” an all-wheel-drive system for their next vehicle.

The survey findings, presented at the Society of Automotive Engineers AWD Systems, Security, and Driver Interaction Symposium here, appear promising for auto makers – particularly the U.S. Big Three – as they roll out a bevy of new cars, trucks and SUVs for ’05 that offer AWD systems, many as standard equipment.

Moreover, those who own AWD-equipped vehicles apparently believe AWD is worth the extra cost. A resounding 94% of survey respondents who already own a vehicle with AWD say they would strongly consider buying the feature again, says Anthony Pratt, J.D. Power senior manager.

Pratt also says North America is forecast to be the world region with the highest rate of AWD growth, and J.D. Power predicts the North American market for AWD-equipped vehicles will grow by 2.3 million vehicles annually by 2011.

Increase in AWD for North American market expected mainly for middle-market vehicles like new Ford Freestyle.

Pratt says the domestic Big Three are positioned to profit the most from the growing demand for AWD and that most of the demand is expected for mid-market SUVs and cross/utility vehicles.

And although the study says consumer interest in AWD in Japan and Korea is comparatively flat, between now and 2011 there will be a 260% increase in AWD vehicle sales in China, accounting for 50% of AWD growth for the entire Asia/Pacific region.

Despite lackluster demand in much of Asia, sales of AWD vehicles there are expected to increase 29%, or 1.2 million units, by 2011. As with North America, most growth is expected in mid-market vehicles.

The study says Toyota Motor Corp. is the auto maker best-positioned to take advantage of increased AWD installation rates in the Asia/Pacific region.

Europe, Pratt says, will demand about 700,00 more AWD vehicles by 2011, with the greatest growth expected “at the higher end of the market.” He says Volkswagen AG likely will benefit most from increased AWD demand in that region.

Because most AWD growth is predicted for middle-market vehicles, Pratt says suppliers of AWD systems and components should not expect auto makers to select expensive, overly technical AWD solutions.

Only in Europe, he says, where more AWD growth is forecast for the premium market, are buyers – and auto makers – likely to pay for more sophisticated AWD systems.

bvisnic@primediabusiness.com