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Consumer Reports has just released its latest brand perception study, and for the first time, Ford seems to be giving Toyota a run for its money. According to CR, the two brands are nearly tied up, though Ford has edged ahead in categories like safety, quality and value. The Blue Oval has been gaining serious ground recently – jumping 35 percentage points in the study in just two years. Meanwhile, Toyota has seen its score fall by 45 percentage points in the same period of time.

The study measures each brand across a handful of categories, including safety, quality, value, performance, design/style, technology/innovation and environmentally friendly/green. Scores are then averaged to generate a total brand perception. Consumer Reports notes that Toyota still leads the green category by leaps and bounds with a score of 46, though interestingly, it notes that buyers seem to be less and less concerned with just how environmentally friendly their vehicles are. Ford, meanwhile holds onto just 18 percentage points in the same category. Hit the jump for the full press blast.

[Source: Consumer Reports]
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Toyota and Honda take back seat to Ford in safety, quality and value

YONKERS, NY ? Consumers believe the Ford brand has gained considerable ground as perennial leader Toyota has declined over the past two years, according to Consumer Reports' 2011 Car Brand Perception Survey. While the two car companies are in a statistical dead heat, Ford excels in the factors that consumers say matter most: safety, quality and value.

Over a two-year period, Ford has climbed by 35 percentage points as Toyota has plummeted by 46 points, with total scores of 144 and 147, respectively. A year ago, Toyota retained a substantial lead over Ford and Honda, the No. 2 and No. 3 makes in terms of the strongest or most favorable car brand. In 2010, however, Toyota finished only slightly ahead of Ford, which widened its advantage over Honda. Honda has continued to lose ground, sliding 28 points since 2008.

The scores in the survey reflect how consumers perceive each brand in seven categories: safety, quality, value, performance, design/style, technology/innovation, and environmentally friendly/green. Measuring across those categories provides the total brand perception and does not directly represent the actual qualities of any brand's vehicles.

Ford built on the momentum seen in last year's study, likely the result of a model lineup with improving performance, reliability and styling. At the same time, the massive recalls announced by Toyota earlier this year contributed to the tarnishing of its public image as measured in the poll.

One area where Toyota maintained a significant lead is in a category that continues to become less important to consumers: environmentally friendly/green. Toyota leads the category by a large margin, with a score of 46, compared to second-place Ford at 18. Without that big Toyota victory in the green category, Ford would have clearly claimed the top overall score.

The survey also found that the environmentally friendly/green factor continues to drop with only 28% of consumers finding it to be an important factor, down by 4 percentage points since last year and by 12 points since 2008. This drop is likely a sign of the leaner economic times and unwillingness to spend more for green technologies.

The ten most recognizable brands based on the perception of car owners are: Toyota (147), Ford (144), Honda (121), Chevrolet (102), BMW (93), Mercedes-Benz (90), Volvo (84), Lexus (69), Cadillac (66), and Subaru (50). Honda and Chevrolet retained their third and fourth place finishes, while BMW leapt over Volvo and Mercedes-Benz to capture fifth place.

The four brands with a double-digit drop in brand perception are Toyota (-49 points), Subaru (-31 points), Chevrolet (-22 points) and Lexus (-11 points). After a 23-point jump last year, Subaru went in reverse to dip below its 2008 number.


Safety (65%), quality (57%), and value (51%) continued to be the most important factors for consumers who are considering the purchase of a new car. These categories maintain more weight than performance (47%), environmentally friendly or green (28%), design or style (25%) and technology or innovation (17%). The only significant change was the continued decline of environmentally friendly/green, down a dozen percentage points from 2008.

For more results from Consumer Reports' 2011 Car Brand Perception Survey and more information on how to choose a new vehicle, visit www.ConsumerReports.org/cars.


Volvo (70%) is the undeniable leader in the minds of consumers in the safety category, with a dramatic 50-point advantage over second-place Ford (20%). This margin elevates the Chinese-owned brand to top ten status overall. Without leadership in this factor, Volvo would blend in with second-tier brands in consumers' minds. Still, Volvo slid a bit in the safety category this year. The movement may be because Volvo has not played the safety drumbeat as loudly as in the past during the transition to new ownership.

Other brands lost ground, but only slightly and without statistical significance. It is possible that in the year ahead, the results from the more-stringent government crash test rating system may influence future perceptions. Among the 2011 models tested thus far, only the Honda Accord has earned five stars across the board – a feat that was commonplace just a year ago.


Recalls over the past 18 months have put a major dent in Toyota's hard-won public reputation as a leader in quality. Honda (25%) and Ford (23%) accelerated past Toyota (19%), as the previous year's leader dropped 11 percentage points. Chevrolet (16%) and Mercedes-Benz (15%) rounded out the top five.

The brand perception survey mirrors the recent Consumer Reports' vehicle reliability study that ranked Toyota as sixth, down three places from the prior year. The study ranked Honda and Ford higher than Toyota, each without a single model showing reliability below or merely at the industry average.

Aside from Toyota, the quality leaders in the survey remain consistent. Of those top five, only Mercedes-Benz's appearance among them contrasts how perception differs from reality. While most Mercedes models fare well in Consumer Reports' tests and are enjoyable to drive, the brand ranks 22nd in predicted reliability – down four spots from the previous year.

While the term "value" can be open to personal interpretation, it is clear that car buyers are looking to get the most for their money, including a good car at a good price. In terms of value, Ford (25%) edged out Honda (24%) and Toyota (23%), as the brand moved up from third place last year. Consistent with elsewhere in the survey, consumers' perception of Toyota has dropped, while their perception of Ford has risen as Honda pulls a respectable second-place finish.

The five brands that lead the list also include Hyundai (17%) and Chevrolet (15%), which traded positions from the previous study. The year-to-year movement for most brands in the survey suggests that the rollout of new models and their associated marketing campaigns can affect consumer perception.


BMW (27%) and Porsche (21%) again claimed the top spots in the performance category. Experiencing a major improvement, climbing 8 percentage points over last year, this year the fifth spot is claimed by Audi (17%). A growing portfolio with high-performance S model variants and an R8 supercar flagship is clearly communicating that there is another performance-focused German automaker.

Ford (19%) claims third place in performance, with Toyota falling from the top five. Ford's score has remained unchanged as Toyota has tumbled to 15 percentage points. Toyota's high scores in past years suggest that survey respondents were reacting to more than track-based performance characteristics in their strong support for the brand. It has been a long time since the Toyota brand had a true performance car. Chevrolet (19%) again claimed the fourth position, just half a percentage point behind Ford.


Given the attention the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, and other electrified cars are getting, one might think that environmentally friendly cars would be a market force; however the Consumer Reports' green car survey showed that while Americans want better fuel efficiency, they are not willing to pay extra for it.

Consumers are aware that all automakers are striving to improve the fuel economy in their models, and expectations are high for the next new car purchase. This year the survey shows that leader Toyota (46%) and No. 3 Honda (17%) no longer own the "green" space. While both companies provide several hybrid models and offer other fuel-efficient vehicles, the competition is making significant strides.

Taking the second spot from Honda is Ford (18%). With the Fusion hybrid sedan and by spreading its turbocharged "EcoBoost" engines across several model ranges, Ford is delivering more power and efficiency than before. Chevrolet (12%) remained mostly unchanged year-over-year as it makes its fuel-economy push with the Cruze, Equinox, Volt, and upcoming Sonic. The fifth spot was claimed by Scion (9%), keeping Subaru out of the top five by a slight margin.

Surprisingly, Hyundai remained in the seventh spot, barely climbing 1 percentage point over last year. Based on official EPA fuel economy ratings, Hyundai would be a green factor leader. As Hyundai rolls out the Sonata hybrid, redesigned Elantra, and eventually the small Veloster, it may capture more green awareness.


Luxury brands dominated the top spots in the design/style category. Up from fifth place last year, BMW (22%) claimed the top spot, followed by Porsche (20%), Cadillac (20%) and Mercedes-Benz (18%). Interestingly, Lexus (17%) came in at the fifth spot, having dropped 6 percentage points in two years. Cadillac also took a hit, dropping 4 points from last year.

Last year, Toyota had 17%, and this year it came in with just 10%. The drop in perceived styling leadership contributes to that brand's reduced overall score. Just off our leader chart, Ford claimed 17% this year, followed by Chevrolet with 16%.


Toyota (22%) barely stayed at the top, despite losing 10 points from last year, leaving Mercedes-Benz (22%), Ford (21%), Lexus (18%) and BMW (17%) all clustered with similar scores. In the past, Toyota had a commanding advantage in technology, likely fueled by its hybrid powertrains and related marketing.

It would seem that consumers now take the Prius for granted and potentially are not impressed with the Honda CR-Z and Insight. Ford has inched up this year, with numerous recent innovations to its credit beyond hybrid that include EcoBoost powertrains, the SYNC driver interface system and the MyFord Touch touch-screen display.

Lexus and BMW make the list, with each offering powerful, modern powertrains and advanced safety features. Just off this list is Chevrolet at 11%. With the upcoming Volt and new models in the pipeline, this is a brand to watch for next year.

Despite their focus on engineering and marketing efforts heavily on high-tech features, two prestige brands that weren't close were Infiniti (8%) and Acura (5%).


To learn about consumers' car brand perceptions, the Consumer Reports National Research
Center conducted a random, nationwide telephone survey on December 2-6, 2010, contacting 2,019 adults, collecting data from 1,721 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.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      @ neevers: I couldn't wait any longer. Wanted to trade up before I had to do inspection. Also I don't like the way the focus looks but will still check one out. A friend of mine is waiting to get his copy.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Remember from where this information comes, straight from the horses butt.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Funny that the CR-haters will hate CR even when it's applauding American manufacturers. Don't let the facts get in the way of a good rant, boys!
        • 4 Years Ago
        I don't always agree with CR when they do reviews themselves (i.e. when they drive cars and judge the interiors and handling), since they have their own subjective ideas about those things (and their reviewers aren't physically the same, so sometimes they think the headroom is ok when I'm hitting my head on the ceiling). But when they're just collecting survey data they're about as objective as you can get. Nobody else really has data quite as extensive.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Having gone through the CR article, and their methodology of trying to get people to name brands, I think the whole survey to be pretty weak. From what I gather, it's largely a popularity contest which primarily rewards the brands which have historically sold well.

        To do well, or badly, one needs to be doing a pretty abyssmal job (Jeep).

        Or have great marketing (Volvo).

        I'm not at all impressed with the methodology used, much less the way the final rankings were tallied.
      • 4 Years Ago
      "The study measures each brand across a handful of categories, including safety, quality, value, performance, design/style, technology/innovation and environmentally friendly/green"

      It said that Ford was ranked higher in safety, quality, and value. Is that to imply that people ranked Toyota higher than Ford for performance and style???
      • 4 Years Ago
      You reap what you sow. Ford has really put an effort on changing the strategy on the US market and this is one way how it shows. Kudos Ford!
      • 4 Years Ago
      Nearly...this time.
      • 4 Years Ago
      great news. Ford will lead the next time. Ford's doing almost everything right these days. So is GM but they have a bigger hole to dig out from. I'm not sure Toyota will ever again be the sterling brand consumers felt it was. Hyundai is moving up quickly too, I just hope not too quickly and they lose track of what they're doing right in favor of just doing more.
        • 4 Years Ago
        ac2010: "I'm not sure Toyota will ever again be the sterling brand consumers felt it was."

        Well, it's about time, says this one-time owner of a late-eighties Toyota V6 pickup with the infamous blown head gasket. (Covered by a Toyota recall, eventually, and with oh so much agony on their part.)

        I'm glad a domestic is going toe-to-toe with Toyota, doing even better than Toyota where it matters. Per CR: "The two brands rank a close first and second in overall perception, with Ford having a clear advantage in the factors that matter most to car shoppers: Safety, quality, and value." Maybe Toyota will feel the boot and make less boring cars with more content; consumers can only benefit from the competition.

        • 4 Years Ago
        I am so glad the internet allows us to keep track of what people. Americans have such short memories and in 2 years when the tide turns it will be oh so easy to search back to all of these Ford-fanboy comments and shove it back in your face. That will be fun. Really, people should be more careful of jumping on bandwagons.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I am so happy that Ford is doing so well and competing amazingly against Toyota. Even though I like American cars, and do own a Ford, and even though GM is doing excellently, I would never touch a GM as my next car. Anyways I am very glad Ford is making the public happy.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Ford has had a good management team in place lately. However, nobody in my family is drooling over a Ford.

      CR needed an all American Hero and found it with Ford: it just tells you that all of this is perception.
      - Unintended acceleration is just BS. Impossible since the brakes will hold the car still, no matter what
      - Little old ladies and Grey hair crowd will still buy Camries and Toyotas. It is far from being over.

      Mullaly gets on my nerves, really as much as CR. This is the thing with CR; when they start to sanctify a manufacturer, there's no limit. I am sure the majority of them are Republicans.
        • 4 Years Ago
        The fact that no one in your family is drooling over a Ford is a perfectly legitimate opinion. Could you sit there with a straight face and tell me that CR's last darling made anything (aside from the LS-F) that elicited any emotional response whatsoever?

        Yes, old ladies will still flock to beige Camrys and Avalons as long as Toyota keeps making them, as will people who don't bother to shop or do any research. Look at the inroads Ford has made and it has only been one year since Toyota's reputation for building bulletproof cars fell apart and it will tell you which way the momentum is going. And by the way, when did the "Little old ladies and Grey hair crowd" become the most coveted demographic in the business? Betting on a shrinking demographic with a fixed income is a horrible way to run a business.

        Finally, why do you hate Mullaly so much? If anything, he has shown himself to be one of the most capable business leaders in the US, if not the world. Mullaly's confidence is quite a contrast to Akio Toyoda's weeping at a press conference.

        And that last comment about Republicans is just out of left field.
        • 4 Years Ago
        From my understanding, CR had no say in the results...it was a consumer survey of brand perception, not CR's perception of brands.

        So weird, Americans seem to be the most un-nationalistic people I've come across when it comes to their own companies. I'm originally from Korea but now live in US, so I'm happy when Hyundai does well (also happy when my adopted countrys companies like Ford have been getting recognition for great vehicles as of late).

        Some americans want to keep the perception of their brands as inferior to what they perceive as 'almighty' Toyota. I say, why hostile? Why not be positive? Good for you Hyundai and Ford, for building great products! :D
      • 4 Years Ago
      The bright afterglow of avoiding a very public bankruptcy with the federal government courtesy of TARP funds.
        • 4 Years Ago

        First, it's not a strawman argument if you think there's no way that any of those factors can affect the response to such simple questions as you put it. Heck, your entire argument is strawman then as well.

        "Getting back to the discussion: You seem to feel that "nationalism, emotion and politics" irrevocably skew a consumer survey. I feel consumers, when asked simple questions, about style, performance, etc. can respond with simple answers about style, performance, etc. Our opinions apparently differ. That's what makes democracy grand.."

        Democracy has nothing to do with freedom of opinion, but okay. So now you don't think that factors liek emotion, politics and nationalism can affect survey responses at all if they aren't relevant. Jeebus! Psychology and marketing academics disagree with you. I'm assuming you didn't go to school for that or perhaps not at all and perhaps also lack any sense of understanding of the human condition. Good thing we have Wikipedia now. Google response bias and cognitive bias. Perhaps you'll learn something.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @thritter: Increasing government funding for reducing oil consumption (to fight ze arabs!!) isn't the same thing as asking if you would support bailing out a company that couldn't compete on its own.

        And you must be joking about how Ford's "not bailed out" reputation hasn't affected the public's perception of their cars' quality, value, style, etc. You also must not believe in advertising, brand development or corporate responsibility/community involvement PR stunts.
        • 4 Years Ago
        You're right, Dest, Ford's cars look so much more stylish since the company didn't take a bailout.
        • 4 Years Ago
        AND updating all their powertrains massively.

        And also, Toyota's image of reliability has gone down the tubes recently ( in reality they stopped dropping in reliability after 2000 fairly rapidly, but they've been riding their reputation for a while ).

        So with a modern Ford having sometimes better MPG and power, a sharp design, and a lower price.. why bother with the Toyota.

        I'm tellin' ya... the Japanese car companies are slacking. This is why everyone else is kicking their butts.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @thritter: What's with the sarcasm? Surveys reflect perception, not reality. And the perception of a company is affected by its advertising, PR stunts, country of origin, whether they take controversial bailouts, etc. and in turn this also affects the perception of the company's products despite those things having nothing to do with the products' quality/design, etc. Have you never heard of this before? Really? There's been plenty of examples where people think certain wine tastes better because they're told it's from a famous wine maker.

        Let's say that Ford suddenly got bought out by a the Chinese Communist Party and fired all their American workers and replaced them with Chinese ones. Do you honestly think they would still fare so well in the surveys? Please. All of a sudden, people would start noticing problems with any new Fords they buy and blame it on the Chinese.

        We don't live in a world free of nationalism, emotion and politics.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Dest, sorry if my sarcasm wounded you. When you write things like "You also must not believe in advertising" and "Have you never heard of this before? Really?" I assume you can take it as well as dish it out. Sorry, my bad.

        But, hey, your theoretical example ("Let's say that Ford suddenly got bought out by a the Chinese Communist Party and fired all their American workers and replaced them with Chinese ones. Do you honestly think they would still fare so well in the surveys?") is a hilarious straw-man argument. Thanks for the laugh.

        Getting back to the discussion: You seem to feel that "nationalism, emotion and politics" irrevocably skew a consumer survey. I feel consumers, when asked simple questions, about style, performance, etc. can respond with simple answers about style, performance, etc. Our opinions apparently differ. That's what makes democracy grand..
        • 4 Years Ago

        I wouldn't say the Japanese companies are the technical leaders they once were, just look at Honda's current powertrains - nothing innovative going on there, at least compared to the competition. The Prius is a pretty impressive piece of engineering, but Toyota also licensed EV powertrain technology from Tesla.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Dest = blowhard.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Sorry to burst anyone's political agenda, but according to CR: "The scores in the survey reflect how consumers perceive each brand in seven categories: safety, quality, value, performance, design/style, technology/innovation, and environmentally friendly/green."

        It would seem awfully hard to frame your answer to questions in these specific and practical categories with "Well, I hated the government bailout, so I vote for Ford." (In fact, in this study, CR found that Chevrolet’s “brand loyalty” and “likely to purchase” numbers haven’t slipped. And in an earlier study CR found that more than 70 percent of survey respondents said said they would support increased government funding for measures aimed at achieving a national goal of reducing oil consumption. So guvmint-hating and bailout-hating doesn’t seem to be a factor in Ford’s rise.)

        Ford is doing well for one very simple reason: Ford is making very impressive cars these days.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Screw perception. At the end of the day, my questions let me see if I enjoy driving and owning a car that these companies sell. Or better put, I don't care what other people think for it is I that have to live with my choice. So, away from that after a few months of test driving I have found the Toyota Corolla and Camry a decent value but they suck in terms of quality in the areas of ride, handling, interior refinement and sophistication. The heavily overhauled
      Fusion and Focus both beat the toyota's 10 fold, something I have experienced since 2006 when Fusion arrived. But at the and of the day 4 weeks ago I bought a car based on how it drove, it's refinement, the features for the money, and the fuel economy. And neither ford or Toyota was my choice when I came to buy, though a ford was my back up just in case I couldn't get what I wanted.
        • 4 Years Ago
        So what did you buy? A sonata?
      • 4 Years Ago
      @ mythree rocks: no I bought a cruze. I almost went for a Sonata or a fusion, but wanted something smaller.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I really love my Fusion and every time I see Ford doing well lately, I cant help but think a large part of it is because of that car and what it did for Ford's large scale midsize market presence.
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