LOS ANGELES -- Ford is riding sky high in terms of consumer perception, according to a market research firm that tracks how Americans view consumer brands.
Toyota took a huge fall in BrandIndex's survey of consumer sentiment after its recall crisis this year. It still is dead last among auto brands, but it has started to make a comeback.
New York-based BrandIndex surveys 5,000 consumers daily on their opinions of more than 1,100 brands. It rates brands on a scale from minus 100 to 100. Zero means equal positive and negative perceptions. Generally, the highest score is around 60.
Last week, Ford's score of 40 was tops among all auto brands in the survey. Chevrolet was second at 22, and Honda was third at 20.
With a score of minus 14, Toyota trailed all other auto brands. But that's a vast improvement from the minus 50 BrandIndex reported for Toyota on Feb. 4, just as the recall scandal was exploding.
Prior to June 2009, Toyota was consistently No. 1 among car brands, says Ted Marzilli, global managing director of the research firm. It peaked with a score of 44 in July 2008.
"The U.S. industry had been maligned for so long, but Toyota has tossed out the notion that the Japanese are superior," Marzilli says. "Ford caught up with Toyota in January 2010, when Toyota fell off the cliff. Honda suffered a little bit, probably due to the negative effect on Japanese makers because of Toyota."
Toyota is slowly climbing back, rising from a minus 24 in early May to minus 14 on May 31. But some Detroit 3 brands are improving, too. Cadillac went from a score of eight in early May to 15.6 on May 31. Buick rose to its best score ever -- 14.6 -- as of May 31, from eight in early May.
"Toyota still is in a negative position, and that's not a good place to be," Marzilli says. "They stumbled and proved they're human. That has benefited everyone, particularly the non-Japanese. The U.S automakers, led by Ford, have been on an upward trajectory for most of the year."
Sales results back up the brand perception. Toyota was the brand sales leader in 2009 for the second year in a row. But through the first five months of this year, No. 1 Ford's sales have soared 34 percent to 703,327 -- leading third-place Toyota by 104,749 units. Chevrolet, at No. 2, is up 31 percent and leads Toyota by 41,403 units. Toyota's sales were up 10 percent.
Says Marzilli: "I believe it will be three to six months before Toyota gets into the positive category and two years before it maybe can get back to where it was."