Chevrolet, Ford, and Subaru jump in brand perception

Toyota is tops, according to new Consumer Reports survey

Last reviewed: January 2010
2010 Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius
Toyota again earned the highest score in the annual brand perception survey.

Despite experiencing 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's scores. 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 reflect consumers' total perception level of a brand across those categories, and not the actual qualities of the brand's individual vehicles.

Toyota maintained its Number one spot. But overall score improvements helped Ford to 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. (See the 2009 Consumer Reports Car Brand Perceptions Survey.)

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), Lexus (-15), Cadillac (-15), Infiniti (-21), and Lincoln (-25) moving in the wrong direction.

Clearly, several brands emerged from the 2009 auto crisis stronger than others, and the way consumers perceive the brands is in constant change.

Best and worst in brand perception

The chart below shows the overall scores for the top and bottom 10 brands, according to Consumer Reports' 2010 Car Brand Perception Survey. Overall scores are an aggregate, reflecting a brand's total perception level across seven areas. They are rounded to the nearest whole number. The top five brands in each area are listed on the Brand perception by category pages.

Overall brand perception
Best Worst
Brand Score Brand Score
Toyota 196 Hummer 11
Ford 141 Saab 13
Honda 135 Mercury 13
Chevrolet 124 Mazda 13
Volvo 92 Suzuki 19
Mercedes-Benz 92 Infiniti 19
BMW 90 Jeep 22
Cadillac 87 Lincoln 26
Subaru 81 Kia 27
Lexus 80 Mitsubishi 28

As we analyzed the results from this year's survey, we have found that marketing and news coverage can be important influences, shaping brand perception over time. Conversely, the brands that can clearly deliver on core purchase factors will make lasting impressions.

In contrast to brands that have a strong image in only one area, such as Volvo with safety, the brands that see the greatest success are those that excel in multiple areas, such as Toyota, Ford, Honda, and Chevrolet.

For consumers, it's important to remember that brand perception often reflects distortions of reality, as is discussed in the following sections. It pays to look beyond your impressions and do your homework, especially in the areas that are most important to you.

ConsumerReports.org has a variety of tools that can help you to quickly and efficiently narrow down a wish list, based on real-world test results, reliability data, owner costs, and other ratings. In addition, we have recently expanded our premium offerings to include Cars Best Deals Plus, which provides the Bottom Line Price to help you get the best deal, full test-track reports from our engineers, and detailed reliability findings, so you can see what types of specific problems owners are experiencing.

How the scores were calculated

The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a random, nationwide telephone survey Dec. 3-7, 2009, contacting 2,017 adults. The Center collected the survey 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 a particular make was mentioned as exemplar across all seven categories, divided by the total unaided mentions. (Interview subjects were asked what brands exemplified the traits instead of read a list of brands.) That 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.