The latest Consumer Reports’ Car Brand Perception Survey again shows that the perceived difference between brands is shrinking. Even with a slight year-over-year score shift, the top automotive brands remain Toyota, Ford, Honda, and Chevrolet. However, newcomer Tesla is on the rise.
For 2013, Toyota has a 15-point advantage with its 133-point overall brand perception score over second-ranked Ford. Toyota boasted a more dramatic lead in 2010, which faded after the company’s safety concerns and recalls dominated headlines a few years ago, but since then, Toyota has edged back up.
Ford remains in a solid second-place (118 points), with Honda retaining third place (114 points), yet jumping 20 points over last year. The top six brands overall finished in the same rank order as in 2012.
Based on data collected from a random, nationwide survey, the scores reflect how consumers perceive each brand in seven categories: quality, safety, value, performance, design/style, technology/innovation, and environmentally friendly/green. Combining those factors gives us the total brand-perception score. While the scores reflect a brand’s image in consumers’ minds, they do not reflect the actual qualities of any brand’s vehicles.
This last year brought stability to much of the automotive industry. Bankruptcies, brand closures, and lackluster sales were history for some companies. Instead, we saw new models introduced emphasizing design and fuel economy. Also, there is an increase in car sales spurred by an aging national fleet. Yet, the brand awareness for many brands has declined, including BMW, Buick, Cadillac, GMC, Hyundai, and Nissan. It is harder for companies to compete for share of mind, a situation perhaps exaggerated in years dominated by election and disaster news coverage.
In looking at how the brands rank, it is clear that it takes more than a single ad campaign or new product for most brands to connect with consumers and earn their favor. The rare exception is Tesla, a small, electric-car builder that has garnered awards for its new Model S sedan and made a notable splash in this latest survey. Tesla made the Top 10 list last year with an overall 42-point score, and this year, it again holds the 10th spot with a higher 55 points.
The real party crasher this year is Dodge. With its 56 points, Dodge bumped Lexus from the best list, as that luxury brand saw its score rise just seven points to 50 points for 2013 from the previous year against Dodge’s 23-point gain. While most brands excel in select areas, counting on just a couple or a few factors for their points, Dodge made the cut this year with modest showings across the board. And that was despite Chrysler Corp.'s separating the Ram truck group from Dodge. Its strongest categories were performance (14 points) and design/style (13 points), with the weakest showing being environmentally friendly/green (3 points). Not all brands can be everything to everyone.