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The auto industry has been through a lot since 2009, but it appears that consumers have a lot more confidence in the industry two years later. Brand and marketing consultancy Prophet polled 4,900 U.S. consumers about 145 Fortune 500 companies from 18 different sectors, and the numbers reveal that most automakers are more highly regarded now than in 2009.

BMW and Honda lead the pack, as both automakers ranked in the top 50 overall brands. Ford finished with a score of 60, which is up from 72. General Motors made a big leap from 123 to 85, in part because of new technology like the Chevy Volt.

Those are all good stories, but then there is Toyota. The Japanese automaker, which was saddled with the recall of over 10 million vehicles for floor mat and gas pedal issues, dropped all the way from number 18 to number 139. That number hasn't exactly resulted in horrible sales totals for Toyota, but there is little doubt that demand has softened a bit for the brand. Hit the jump to read over the press release from Prophet.
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SAN FRANCISCO (May 4, 2011) – With one notable exception, the automotive industry has come back strongly from the shaken consumer confidence and damaged reputation that resulted from the 2009 economic crisis and bailout environment, a study by strategic brand and marketing consultancy Prophet shows.

The firm's "Reputation Winners, Losers " study showed an overall jump in reputation scores from 2009 for the majority of the sector. While foreign automakers Honda and BMW remained in overall top 50 with strongest scores, the U.S. contingent saw substantial improvement despite remaining in the bottom of the overall rankings.

GM moved to the 85th spot from 123; Ford, to 60 from 72. Even Daimler saw improvement, moving to 115 from 124. "Ongoing moves by automakers to improve their products and finances seem to be paying off with renewed consumer confidence," said Prophet Partner Jeff Smith, who headed the study.

Not surprisingly, Toyota's ongoing woes with multiple product recalls caused it to fall from its leading reputation spot at 18 to a failing one at 139 – near the bottom of the 2010-2011 list.

Smith said consumers heavily weighted attributes centered on products, personal relevance, and leadership and ethical behavior, including how well companies delivered on innovation with products, services, and technologies.

With new products like the electric Chevy Volt, GM got high scores on innovation-related reputation drivers. It also helped, Smith said, that GM divested several brands to focus on improved quality and reliability of others. Consumers also gave GM points for its performance on reputation drivers related to reliable products and services.

Ford, which just reported market share gains and the highest profits in 13 years, saw high marks on product-related reputation drivers, said Smith. He attributed much of that to the new Ford Fiesta and its unique product features. Ford ranked first among all automobile companies on innovation-related reputation drivers. Its refusal of the federal bailout also likely contributed to its strong scores on qualities of leadership, transparency, and ethics.

Prophet polled 4,900 U.S. consumers about 145 Fortune 500 companies in 18 sectors, asking them to gauge overall reputation, and how well they believe companies perform on various attributes that impact reputation.

Prophet (www.prophet.com) is a strategic brand and marketing consultancy that helps its clients win by delivering inspired and actionable ideas. For further information about the study, contact Jeff Smith at jsmith@prophet.com .