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Toyota tops while Chevrolet, Ford, and Subaru rise in Consumer Reports car brand perception survey

Posted Tuesday, January 12, 2010

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Consumers say Safety, Quality and Value trump all other car buying factors.

Yonkers, NY — Despite one of the most turbulent years ever in the automotive market, Chevrolet, Ford, and Subaru have benefited from a dramatic increase in overall brand perception among car owners, according to Consumer Reports 2010 Car Brand Perception Survey.

All three saw at least a 30-point increase in their overall perception scores over last year. The scores reflect how consumers perceive each brand in seven categories: Safety, quality, value, performance, design/style, technology/innovation, and environmentally friendly/green. The scores don’t reflect the actual qualities of the brand’s vehicles.

Toyota maintained its number-one spot. But their jumps in overall score helped Ford slip past Honda into second place and allowed Chevrolet to rise to fourth place from ninth. Subaru’s 39-point increase, which was the largest of any brand and almost double its 2009 score, boosted the brand to ninth place, from last year’s 18th position.

The top 10 scoring brands based on the perception of car owners are: Toyota (196), Ford (141), Honda (135), Chevrolet (124), Volvo (92), Mercedes-Benz (92), BMW (90), Cadillac (87), Subaru (81), and Lexus (80).

At the other end of the spectrum, the two lowest-scoring brands were Hummer and Saab—divisions that General Motors has struggled to sell. Luxury brands saw the greatest decreases in overall scores, with Porsche (-13 points), Cadillac (-15), Infiniti (-21), and Lincoln (-25) moving in the wrong direction.

Clearly, several brands emerged from the 2009 auto crisis stronger than others, said Rik Paul Consumer Reports auto editor, “Analyzing the data we found that marketing and news coverage can be important influences, shaping brand perception but the brands that can clearly deliver on core purchase factors will make lasting impressions.”

THE MOST IMPORTANT NEW-CAR-BUYING FACTORS:

Safety (64%), Quality (58%), and Value (51%) top the list of factors that car owners consider the most important when buying a new car. At the moment, consumers find them to be more important than performance, environmentally friendly/green, design/style and technology and innovation.

The only significant change over last year is that people who listed “environmentally friendly/green” as one of their top three priorities is down eight percentage points. In a troubled economy, with gas prices relatively low, green in the wallet trumps environmental concerns for many.

More results for Consumer Reports 2010 Car Brand Perception Survey and more information on how to choose a new vehicle, visit www.ConsumerReports.org/cars.

SAFETY:

Safety continues to be a top consideration for consumers. But women deem it far more important than men, with 31 percent rating it as the top factor compared to 19 percent of men. (Quality was the primary factor for men.)

Volvo (73%) dominates this category. With almost three-quarters of respondents considering Volvo a leader in safety, it is clear that decades of engineering and marketing have resonated with consumers. This past year, Volvo introduced the XC60 crossover, claiming it is the safest Volvo ever.

Ford (22%) saw a slight increase in its safety factor percentage, perhaps buoyed by its increasingly favorable overall reputation and possibly the integration of some Volvo technologies, such as blind-spot detection.

Subaru made a leap to third place with 21 percent considering it to be a safety leader, compared to 11 percent last year. Toyota (18%) and Honda (17%) scores round out the top five.

QUALITY:

Despite several high profile recalls this year, Toyota (30%) again secured the top spot for quality in the eyes of car owners. Honda (25%) repeated in second place. While quality can have a broad range or interpretations, these two brands do routinely excel in Consumer Reports Reliability Ratings, with fewer repairs reported from our subscribers than most other makes.

Again, Ford (22%) showed marked gains, rising five percentage points for quality. On the other hand, Mercedes-Benz slid from third place in the ’09 Brand Perception survey with 23 percent down to fifth with 16 percent.

This is out of sync with Consumer Reports latest reliability data, which shows that Mercedes has made much-needed improvements in reliability. Most Mercedes models are average or above, though there are some that trail the median.

“A recurring theme through the car perception factors is that reputations, both good and bad, leave a lasting impression. This further underscores the need to research major purchases, rather than rely on assumptions,” Paul said.

VALUE:

Honda (26%) and Toyota (26%) are in a statistical tie for the brands consumers perceived to deliver the most value. The data shows that the virtues of quality and value are not considered mutually exclusive in automobiles, as they can be with other products.

The real story is how the brands beneath Honda and Toyota were shuffled for 2010. Again Ford (22%) is on the rise, moving from fifth place last year to third place. And Chevrolet (21%) rose past Hyundai and Kia into fourth place.

Kia stood tall last year with a Value factor score of 27 percent. It slid down in this latest survey to 18 percent. Meanwhile, Subaru cracked the Top 10 with 12 percent. While Ford made the most dramatic gains, Subaru is clearly on the move. The latest Subaru models have performed well in Consumer Reports tests, are notably larger than those they replace, deliver much-improved fuel economy in some cases, and essentially hold the line on retail pricing. Bigger, better, and no more expensive is a winning formula.

PERFORMANCE:

BMW (29%) and Porsche (26%) again top the performance category in the minds of car owners. Consumer Reports found these brands offer products with a consistent, performance-oriented character, true to their heritage and messaging. While entertaining to drive, several models from these brands are not recommended, due to subpar reliability.

Toyota (22%) again ranked third. While Chevrolet (21%) and Ford round out the top five. These brands likely benefit from the halo effect of their sports cars, including the Chevy Corvette and new revitalized Camaro, and the Ford Mustang. They also offer strong V6 and V8 engines in a number of mainstream models and popular lines of pickup trucks. Further, they foster a performance image in high-profile motorsports, such as NASCAR and NHRA drag racing.

ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY/GREEN:

Toyota (51%) saw its percentage climb slightly this year, likely driven by the redesigned Prius hybrid. In contrast, Honda’s percentage score dropped eight points, from last year’s 31 to this year’s 23, despite introducing its new Prius-fighting Insight hybrid.

Ford (19%) and Subaru (8%) each advanced in this factor, with Ford possibly fueled by its new Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids, and the sales that the Cash for Clunkers program brought for its Focus, Escape hybrid, and Fusion hybrid models.

Chevrolet (13%) heavily marketed the fuel-economy rating of its new, larger Equinox crossover and the promise of upcoming models, such as the Cruze, Spark, and Volt plug-in hybrid. The Chevrolet messages clearly resonated with consumers, despite that its current line up was largely unchanged and unremarkable in the green arena during 2009.

DESIGN/STYLE:

Luxury brands continue to dominate consumer perceptions for design and style, with Lexus and Cadillac claiming the top spots. However, both brands have lost percentage points compared to the previous year, when they claimed 32 and 26 percent, respectively.

Jaguar slid from the top five, being down 13 percentage points to a score of only 10 despite fresh products. The change in its score this year may have more to do with brand visibility than a design critique.

Chevrolet joins the top-five ranks for 2010, making a four percentage-point increase over last year. On the design front, the sharp-edge Equinox gives the brand a much more competitive crossover than before, but it may be the reborn Camaro muscle car that has raised the brand’s design perception. The new Camaro updates the three-box design from the 1967-1969 version, then wraps it in a brash body that looks much like the concept car seen on the show circuit and in the “Transformers” movies.

TECHNOLOGY/INNOVATION:

Toyota (32%) again leads in technology/innovation, with the redesigned Prius and other hybrid models likely solidifying its place in this category. But, except for Toyota, there is not a lot of range in the scores for this category.

Benefiting from a slight three-point increase, Mercedes-Benz jumped from sixth place last year to second this year. The company has aggressively sought to put leading-edge technology in its premium automobiles. Lexus moved incrementally from 22 percent last year to 19 this year.

Fueling its overall rise in brand perception, Ford gained a notable six percentage points this year. Honda again made the cut, likely spurred by its continued emphasis on fuel-efficient, low-emissions powertrains and its new Insight hybrid.

METHODOLOGY:

To learn about consumers’ car brand perceptions, the Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a random, nationwide telephone survey December 3-7, 2009, contacting 2,017 adults, collecting data from 1,752 adults in households that had at least one car.

Overall brand perception is an index calculated as the total number of times that the particular make was mentioned as an exemplar across all seven categories, divided by the total unaided mentions. This approach adjusts for awareness level, ensuring every brand has an equal chance of leading a category, not just the best-selling or most well-known brands.

Category scores reflect the number of times that the particular make was mentioned as an exemplar of the particular attribute, again adjusted for awareness.

Consumer Reports’ Auto Pulse Survey Series:

Throughout the year, Consumer Reports conducts Auto Pulse surveys that track current opinions, perceptions, and buying trends — the pulse — of the American consumer automotive marketplace. Results are announced to the media and posted to www.ConsumerReports.org, the largest paid Web publication.

With more than 7,000,000 print and online subscribers, Consumer Reports is one of the most trusted sources for information and advice on consumer products and services. It conducts the most comprehensive auto-test program of any U.S. publication or Website; the magazine’s auto experts have decades of experience in driving, testing, and reporting on cars. ConsumerReports.org has a variety of tools based on real-world test results, reliability data, owner costs, and other ratings, including Cars Best Deals Plus, which provides the Bottom Line Price to help you get the best deal.To become a subscriber, consumers can call 1-800-234-1645. Information and articles from the magazine can be accessed online at www.ConsumerReports.org.


Consumer Reports has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor appearing on this newspaper's web site.

 
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Toyota tops while Chevrolet, Ford, and Subaru rise in Consumer Reports car brand perception survey
Top 10 scoring brands based on the perception of car owners are: Toyota (196), Ford (141), Honda (135), Chevrolet (124), Volvo (92), Mercedes-Benz (92), BMW (90), Cadillac (87), Subaru (81), and Lexus (80).
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