Automakers spend billions annually to shape public perception for their products and brands, and in 2008 they were aiming at a moving target. During the past year, gas prices soared past $4 a gallon, then plummeted below $2; the economy put jobs and household budgets in peril; and the finance crunch made it more difficult to lease a car or secure a loan. Consumers held off on new-car purchases and placed a greater emphasis on factors that impact the wallet.
The latest Auto Pulse survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center focused on how consumers perceive and rank car brands in seven crucial areas, including safety, quality, value, performance, environmental friendliness, design, and technological innovation. It also looked at which of those factors are most important to consumers when buying a vehicle.
As expected, we saw rankings shift in the 2009 Consumer Reports Car Brand Perceptions Survey compared to last year’s results. Toyota and Honda again top the list for over all score, leading by significant margins. However, domestic brands Chevrolet, Dodge, and Ford saw decreases in overall brand perception.
To rank the brands, the Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a random, nationwide telephone survey, interviewing 1,745 adults whose household owns at least one car. From this, an overall brand perception index was calculated based on the total number of times that the particular make was mentioned as an exemplar in any of the seven categories.
Brand perception – Top 10
Toyota – 193
Honda – 149
Ford – 109
Cadillac – 102
Mercedes-Benz – 100
GMC – 98
Lexus – 95
BMW – 95
Chevrolet – 94
Volvo – 88
Now, this is not to say these are the "best" brands. Such a statement would warrant much more critical analysis than a perception survey, though ConsumerReports.org provides exhaustive information to help in making such assessments based on your own priorities. Going through our New Car Selector, you can filter and sort based on the factors that matter most to you, such as reliability, safety, owner costs, and road test scores.
In scanning through the brands highlighted here, you find invariably that each offers a range of models that perform across a spectrum. While it may be possible to make some general statements, it is more difficult to match the perception of good cars overall with matching test and survey results. For instance, BMW and Mercedes models tend to do well in our tests, however there is significant variance in reliability.
Perception doesn’t always match reality, though such surveys can provide an interesting mirror to the world and reveal trends.
See our full report on the 2009 Consumer Reports Car Brand Perceptions Survey for results in all seven categories and insights into what they mean.