Customers Want to Own Cleanable, Sustainable & Brand-able Cars

In November 2021 Asahi Kasei, a diversified Japanese multinational company, conducted its third “Automotive Interior Survey” together with Cologne, Germany-based market research institute SKOPOS in the four major automotive markets: the USA, Germany, China and Japan. 1,000 car users of varying income levels in each market responded to questions regarding their car purchasing behavior, understanding of automotive sustainability and preferences for the automotive interior. This survey supports the importance of Asahi Kasei’s Healthy Car Portfolio to help OEMs satisfy the needs of the end user.


84% of car users in China prefer to buy, finance or lease a new car, and they are willing to spend an average of 31% more on their next car. With a 7% increase compared to the costs of their current car, the overall willingness of German car users to spend more money on their next car is significantly lower compared to the USA (+19%) and Japan (+10%). In addition, over half of car users prefer to purchase a new car over a used car.

Brand loyalty is still a concern for OEMs

In addition, the results regarding brand loyalty confirm the findings of our surveys from 2019 and 2020, that consumers are willing to change brands quite easily. When it comes to purchasing a new car, on average only half of the car users in Germany would choose the same brand as the current car. However, while car users in the USA and Japan saw a similar trend to Germany, there was a stark contrast in China. In the world’s biggest automotive market 72% of car owners will consider a different car brand for their next purchase.

These figures convey that a significant share of car users are not loyal to a single brand and must be convinced when shopping for their next car.

Cleanliness continues to play a major role in the interior

While fuel/power consumption, drivetrain technology, running costs and driving performance remain as dominating decision factors, the interior design has been exponentially gaining importance in recent years. One of every two car users in the four main markets will take interior design into account for their next car purchase. With growing electrification and automation, it is expected that the interior will become the main differentiating factor in upcoming years and its importance in the car purchasing process will further increase.

A key finding of the first survey from 2019 showed that car users worldwide highly value the cleanliness inside their car. Also, in 2021 64% of car users in Germany put a great emphasis on the cleanliness of their car, trumping intuitive operation (38%) and personalization (46%) (Fig. 2). A similar trend was seen in China (78%), Japan (72%) and the USA (62%).

Car users see high benefit in repellent and easy-to-maintain surfaces

Whether it is a dirty floor, stains and scratches on the interior surfaces, or smell, the general understanding of cleanliness differs among the regions. While car users in China are clearly annoyed by “unpleasant odors” (48%) and the so-called “new car smell” (23%), the share of car users annoyed by these factors is significantly lower in the other regions (Fig. 3). In contrast, “scratches on visible surfaces” are bothering one of every four car users in Germany (25%). This share has further increased compared to 2020 (21%). The same can be observed in the USA, with 29% of the car users being annoyed by scratches (2020: 19%). “Stains on fabrics” are also an annoyance factor for 30% of car users in Germany (2020: 26%) and 32% in the USA (2020: 26%).

A major share in all regions sees a benefit in “water and dirt repellent surfaces,” with 74% in China, 70% in the USA, 65% in Japan and 63% in Germany. “Surface and seating materials that are easy to wash” was also in high regard, especially in the USA (81%) and in China (80%).

Heiko Rother, General Manager Business Development Automotive at Asahi Kasei Europe, comments, “Cleanliness was highly valued by car users even before the pandemic. The last two years have further fueled this desire, and the definition of ‘cleanliness’ has broadened.”

Mike Franchy, Director of North American Mobility at Asahi Kasei America, continues, “With the cost of vehicles increasing consumers have their vehicles longer and want surfaces that are highly durable, easy to clean and continue to look new over time. In addition, our Healthy Car portfolio of anti-microbial textiles and plastics, along with technology to ensure interior air quality, we have solutions for the OEMs to address these needs of the market.”

Changing perception of sustainability

The findings of the survey show “Sustainability” is no longer only defined by the drivetrain technology, but also by the choice of materials. For example, roughly half of the car users in Germany, China and the USA characterize a sustainable car based on “materials made from highly recyclables.” (Fig. 4). In contrast, car users in Japan prioritized hybrid drivetrains to recyclables when characterizing sustainable automobiles.

This growing awareness towards sustainability in automobiles is also reflected in the car user’s willingness to spend more money on a sustainable vehicle. In China, two out of three car users would pay more, in the USA and Japan every third, and in Germany every fourth.

Heiko Rother concludes, “The definition and the perception of sustainability in automobiles is changing. Car users are looking more into the materials being used – electrification alone is not enough anymore. More sustainable interior surface materials that are also good-looking, durable, easy-to-maintain and clean will get more attention from car users. In the end, a ‘long-lasting’ material quality is being recognized as more sustainable.”

Mike Franchy adds, “With our extensive product line of engineered plastics from Asahi Kasei Plastics North America, textiles from Sage Automotive Interiors and UVC LED technology from Crystal IS for interior air purification, we can collaborate with OEMs as a trusted partner to develop the interior functions and features the consumers demand.”