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Toyota still tops but perception gap narrows among car brands

January 24, 2012|By Jerry Hirsch
  • Toyota, which makes this 2012 Camry, scored the highest in Consumer Reports' car brand perception report this year.
Toyota, which makes this 2012 Camry, scored the highest in Consumer Reports'… (Toyota Motor Corp. )

The top car brands seem to be losing their importance in the eyes of consumers as competition across the industry heats up.

For years, Toyota, Ford, and Honda have been the top names in Consumer Reports' annual Car-Brand Perception Survey. They are still at the top, but they have seen double-digit drops in their scores. That has narrowed the gap between the top names and middle-of-the-road car brands.

“Dramatic events in the automotive industry seem to be affecting how consumers view auto brands,” said Jeff Bartlett, Consumer Reports' deputy editor for autos online.

“It is harder for a single brand to stand out among the competitive field. Many brands are starting to get strong in the qualities we are asking about,” Bartlett said.

The Consumer Reports 2012 Car-Brand Perception Survey measures how consumers perceive each brand in seven categories: safety, quality, value, performance, environmentally friendly/green, design/style, and technology/innovation.

The magazine combines those factors to calculate a total brand-perception score. The scores are a measure a brand’s image in consumers’ minds, but is not meant to reflect issues such as quality or reliability or results from Consumer Reports testing of vehicles.

“Brand perception can be influenced by many things, from professional road tests to marketing. 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,” Bartlett said.

As in prior years, Toyota was ranked at the top for overall brand perception, although it slipped a significant 17 points to 131 points, compared with last year’s survey results.

The decline illustrates the narrowing of brand perception. 

Toyota’s score was 96 points more than Hyundai, which ranked 19th and was exactly in the middle of the 38 brands scored this year. A year ago, Toyota scored 147 points – a full 103 points above Hyundai, also the middle brand last year. And Toyota’s score was down significantly from the 196 points it scored in the 2010 rankings.

Bartlett observed that the gap between the top brand this year and No. 10 is 80 points. Last year, it was 97 points.

Other top brands -- Ford, Honda, and BMW -- saw their scores drop more than 20 points. The two leading General Motors brands, Cadillac and Chevrolet, did relatively better with only single-digit decreases.

Brands that score well in Consumer Reports physical tests often lagged in perception scores.

“Acura and Infiniti make good vehicles with many positive attributes but they just don’t stand out with consumers,” Bartlett said.

Toyota and Ford are at the top because they well in most of the factors

The top 10 brands and their scores were:

Toyota, 131; Ford, 121; Honda, 94; Chevrolet, 92; Mercedes-Benz, 84; BMW, 69; Volvo, 67; Cadillac, 63; Lexus, 54; Tesla, 51.

The 10 lowest brands, starting with the absolute lowest were:

Saab, 5 (in bankruptcy and likely going out of business); Fiat, 7; Mini, 7; Mitsubishi, 7; Land Rover, 8; Mercury, 10 (discontinued by Ford and no longer sold); Suzuki, 11; Jeep, 12; Infiniti, 16; Mazda, 16.

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