Consumer Reports Car Brand Perceptions Survey

Last reviewed: January 2009
Toyota Prius
Toyota leads in brand perception based on a nationwide Consumer Reports survey.

Car owners delay new-vehicle purchases citing safety, quality, and value as key factors.

Nearly half of the respondents to the Consumer Reports Car Brand Perceptions Survey said that they will wait longer before purchasing a new vehicle. Leading reasons for the delay include the weak economy, cited by 30 percent; high interest rates for vehicle financing, cited by 18 percent, and that the respondents are waiting for new fuel-saving technologies to become more affordable, cited by 18 percent. For 13 percent, obtaining financing is currently an issue. Those results suggest further challenges lay ahead for the beleaguered auto industry.

Consumers facing a difficult economy are changing their behavior and their perceptions. Consequently, we saw some shifts in rankings in the 2009 Brand Perceptions survey compared with last year’s results. In particular, Toyota and Honda saw increases, while Chevrolet, Dodge, and Ford saw decreases in overall brand perception.

The latest Auto Pulse survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center focused on the ways consumers perceive and rank car brands in seven crucial areas, including safety, quality, value, performance, environmental friendliness, design, and technological innovation. It also looks at which of those factors are most important to consumers when they buy a vehicle. (See the results from the 2008 Car Brand Perceptions survey.)

Strongest and weakest in brand perception

The chart below shows an aggregate score reflecting a brand’s total perception level across the seven areas. Scores are rounded to the nearest percent. These scores don’t reflect the qualities of the brand’s vehicles, only consumers’ perception of them. The top five brands in each area are listed on the Brand perception by category page. The brands that excel received the strongest response. Those ranked lower had fewer such votes.

Overall brand perception
Strongest Weakest
Brand Score Brand Score
Toyota 193 Jeep 21
Honda 149 Hummer 19
Ford 109 Saab 18
Cadillac 102 Mazda 17
Mercedes-Benz 100 Suzuki 7

How the scores were calculated

A random, nationwide telephone survey was conducted Dec. 4-8, 2008, contacting 2,004 adults. We collected the survey data from 1,745 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 compensates for awareness level, ensuring that 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 corrected for awareness.

Posted: January 2009