Brand-perception study finds gap is narrowing
Toyota, Ford and Honda held on to the top three spots in Consumer Reports' annual survey of consumer perceptions of auto brands, but their lead over rivals narrowed.
Chevrolet, for example, finished just two points behind third-place Honda in the latest study, released last week. Rounding out the top 10 were Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volvo, Cadillac, Lexus and Tesla.
Saab, Fiat, Mini and Mitsubishi finished last.
The high finish of low-selling Tesla reflects that the study measured only consumers' awareness of a brand's reputation, in seven categories.
In a December phone survey, 1,700 respondents were asked, without a list of choices, to list a brand that came to mind in each of the seven categories: safety, quality, value, performance, environment, styling and innovation.
Those responses, under the magazine's formula, gave Toyota a top score of 131, down from 147 a year earlier. By comparison, 10th-place Tesla scored 51 and moribund Saab finished last at 5 -- but just two points behind Mitsubishi, Mini and Fiat.
"Dramatic events in the automotive industry seem to be affecting how consumers view auto brands," Jeff Bartlett, a Consumer Reports editor, said in a statement. "Erratic gasoline prices and a struggling economy have pushed consumers to prize low operating costs and good reliability."
Among individual categories, Ford, as it did in 2011, took the top spot for perceived brand value, followed by Toyota and Honda.
The top three brands for quality were Toyota, Honda and Ford.
Despite heavy marketing efforts for the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and all-electric Nissan Leaf, those brands did not spring ahead in the environmental category.
Chevy placed fifth, down from fourth last year, and Nissan ranked seventh. The top three finishers in the category were Toyota, Smart and Honda.