Ford and Toyota in Dead Heat Among Consumer Perceptions

Ford Mustangs on dealer lot
Ford Mustangs on dealer lot

Toyota Motor's (TM) recent spate of quality woes have allowed competitors to steal sales from the beleaguered automaker. None has benefited more than Ford Motor (F), which sold nearly 20% more cars last year, as Toyota's U.S. sales slipped 9%, even as overall industry sales climbed 11%.

Ford is also catching up with Toyota in another important measure of auto industry success -- consumers' opinions of vehicle brands. A new survey released Wednesday by Consumer Reports magazine shows that Ford gained considerable ground on Toyota, which has traditionally topped the nonprofit publication's annual Car Brand Perception Survey.

During the past two years, Ford has gained 35 points while Toyota dropped 46, giving the companies scores of 144 and 147, respectively, Consumer Reports noted in releasing details of the survey Wednesday. A year ago, Toyota held on to its substantial lead over Ford along with rival Japanese automaker Honda Motor (HMC), which placed second and third, respectively.

Ford Excelled Where It Matters Most

The poll measures how consumers perceive car brands using a point system in seven categories: safety, quality, value, performance, design/style, technology/innovation, and environmentally friendly/green. And while Ford and Toyota were in a statistical dead heat, Ford excelled in factors that consumers say matter most: safety, quality and value, Consumer Reports said.

The magazine said Ford built on the momentum it achieved in last year's study, which likely resulted from improved performance, reliability and styling of its model lineup. At the same time, the massive recalls announced by Toyota earlier this year contributed to the tarnishing of its public image as measured in the poll.

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One area where Toyota maintained a significant lead is in environmental friendly/green, a category that continues to become less important to costumers, Consumer Reports said. Were it not for Toyota's high score in that category (46), Ford would have taken the top overall score.

Amid the recession, consumers have become less concerned about car brands' commitment to the environment. Just 28% of consumers rated eco-friendliness an important factor, down 4 percentage points from last year and a 12-point drop from 2008.

In addition to Toyota, Ford and Honda, which achieved scores of 147, 144 and 121, respectively, the most recognizable brands based on owners' perceptions were Chevrolet (102), BMW (93), Mercedes-Benz (90), Volvo (84), Lexus (69), Cadillac (66) and Subaru (50). Toyota, Subaru, Chevy and Lexus all showed double-digit drops in their scores compared to the last year.