The perennial leaders Toyota, Ford, Honda, and Chevrolet stand out as the top brands in consumers’ minds based on the 2014 Car-Brand Perception Survey, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. Several other brands—including Tesla and Subaru—are moving up the rankings.
These scores reflect how consumers perceive each brand in seven categories: quality, safety, performance, value, fuel economy, design/style, and technology/innovation. Combining the scores for those factors gives us the total brand-perception score.
Of course, perception and reality often differ. Perception can often be a trailing indicator, influenced by word-of-mouth, marketing, and anecdotal hands-on experience. Analyzing the data collected from interviews with 1,578 random adults in car-owning households, we see that there is often a notable correlation as to what might inspire someone to think a brand excels. For instance, a company may be known for clever infotainment systems, giving it a perception edge in technology/innovation, but a closer look can reveal satisfaction and reliability concerns among owners.
The annual brand rankings provide a horse-race view of how consumers think of the brands. As you scan the list, and read the full brand-perception report, consider if your own impressions match those of others. And think about what might be affecting the ranking. Doing so will help make you a more critical car shopper and hopefully make it easier to separate the actionable, objective data—such as what's readily available at ConsumerReports.org—from subjective impressions.