The 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in. Photo courtesy of Toyota

Consumer Reports finds Toyota most highly regarded auto brand

Though Toyota, Ford, Honda, and Chevrolet still stand out as the top brands in the country, it’s getting harder for many Americans to distinguish them from their serious challengers, according to a 2012 Car-Brand Perception Survey, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.
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We’ve noticed ourselves the average four-door sedan is getting harder and harder to identify by brand at a glance and this is similar to what the report is finding although it refers more to their mental perception. Though the aforementioned top brands are the most highly regarded by the masses, their recognition has fallen by 10 percent or more according to the survey.

"Dramatic events in the automotive industry seem to be affecting how consumers view auto brands,” stated Jeff Bartlett, Consumer Reports deputy editor for autos online. “Erratic gasoline prices and a struggling economy have pushed consumers to prize low operating costs and good reliability."

The study was specifically concerned with how participants rated the brands in terms of their safety, quality, value, performance, environmentally friendliness design, style, technology and inventiveness.

Consumer Reports is quick to point out this study simply measures how the brands are perceived, having nothing to do with their product comparisons.

Toyota continues to be the most respected brand about, despite public relations and natural disasters on top of slipping sales – in the public’s eyes they remain the most highly regarded manufacturer with an overall score of 65 in the report, even though this represents a 17 point drop for the brand.

Other brands including Ford, Honda and BMW dropped over 20 points in their overall ratings.

This is interesting, in that safety is still the number one concern of the American buyer and Volvo has been in the top 10 manufacturers for years due to it’s safety rating alone. However this year their perception of safety dropped from 70 to 49 points, endangering their continued membership in the top tier of automobiles in American eyes.

Another brand slipping in their perception of safety includes Subaru, going down to 10 percent from 17, falling off the list of the top five brands for Safety. Toyota took a hit due to significant recalls two years back but has remained consistent at 13 percent, year over year, It rose to third in safety perception as other brand scores dropped.

In terms of the perception of quality Ford, Honda and Toyota are now all tied together in the top spot with no distinguishable difference. Honda dropped six points to create the bottleneck.

"Brand perception can be influenced by many things, from professional road tests to marketing,” Bartlett added. “Word-of-mouth from friends and neighbors can be a slower moving, though influential contributor as ownership transitions from the initial honeymoon phase to the seven-year itch."

In terms of performance the public has bought BMW’s Ultimate Driving Machine slogan, but not exactly without reservation. BMW’s score dropped from 27 last year to only 19 percent. This opens the European line up to encroachment by American brands known for their power, namely Ford and Chevrolet.

Ford's relatively consistent score, may have been buoyed by its expanded lineup of Mustang models and the reception of their new turbocharged engines. Chevrolet realized a slight drop in this are while focusing more on fuel-efficiency as they retook the number one slot in global sales.

Newcomer Fisker managed a virtual tie with Porsche in this department for second place, despite the release of the new 911 and the relative invisibility of the Karma plug-in hybrid.

In terms of environmental freindliness, Toyota is still the most highly regarded, thanks largely to the ubiquitous and visually unmistakable Prius line. Toyota has been a perennial leader in this category due to their pioneering work in hybrid technology, but still lost eight points this year.

A surprise this year was Smart’s sudden appearance in the top five, despite no new products or any significant promotional campaign.

Honda stayed in third place for green cachet, with a reputation built on reducing emissions and efficient vehicles like the Accord, Civic, and Fit.

Ford slipped a bit this year, despite the new Fiesta and Focus plus highly visible marketing campaigns, backed by social media blitzes and TV product placement.

What’s really remarkable though, is that Chevrolet and Nissan, despite all the lip service given the Volt and Leaf have failed to significantly impact this category. Chevrolet stayed 12 percentage points, an accomplishment considering all the brands that slipped in various ways. Nissan did sneak up two percentage points, rounding to eight percent, showing their efforts are having some effect on the public mind.

To arrive at these conclusions, The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a random, nationwide telephone survey of 2,045 adults from Dec. 1-5, 2011, collecting survey data from 1,702 adults in households with at least one car.


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