Consumer Reports Study: Perception Gap Narrows Between Car Brands


Consumer perceptions between the best and worst car brands are narrowing, says a new study from Consumer Reports. The magazine's 2012 Car-Brand Perception Survey found top brands like Chevrolet, Ford, Honda and Toyota kept their lead but fell closer to other automakers' scores.

The telephone survey — CR's fifth — took place last December and included more than 2,000 adults with at least one vehicle in their household. Surveyors gauged brand perceptions across seven automotive categories: safety, quality, value, performance, environmental friendliness, design and technology/innovation. It's important to note that overall scores reflect perceptions among respondents who could name a given brand, deputy editor Jeff Bartlett told

"We've made awareness a non-factor, so we've equalized it across the brands," Bartlett said. "So everyone knows Toyota, [but] a few people know Fiat. The question is, of those brands that you're aware of, which stand as exemplary in each of the seven categories that we're looking at?"

The closer results reflect growing consideration for a wider set of brands. Toyota's index score fell 17 points compared to 2010 results but still led the pack. It was followed by Ford (down 23 points), Honda (down 27) and Chevrolet (down 10). Indeed, nine of the top 10 brands' scores fell from last year's survey.

In the past, "there was a big separation between the real leaders and those that didn't" lead, Bartlett said. But automakers are marketing safety, gas mileage and more, making it harder for any single brand's ability to own a category. Take Volvo, for example. The Scandinavian brand ran the tables on safety in past surveys, giving it a top-10 finish by that single category alone, Bartlett said. But safety features are fast becoming democratized — with a record number of new cars earning top crash-test results — making it harder to stay ahead: "In future years it’s going to be very difficult for a brand to truly stand out," he added.

Here's how the scores for 37 brands panned out. For a brand to make the list, around 100 respondents or more (out of 2,045) had to name the brand in unaided awareness.

  1. Toyota (130.6 index score)
  2. Ford (121.1)
  3. Honda (93.8)
  4. Chevrolet (92.2)
  5. Mercedes-Benz (83.6)
  6. BMW (69.3)
  7. Volvo (67.0)
  8. Cadillac (63.3)
  9. Lexus (54.4)
  10. Tesla (50.7)
  11. Smart (47.2)
  12. Acura (46.8)
  13. Audi (41.7)
  14. Subaru (41.3)
  15. Nissan (40.3)
  16. GMC (38.2)
  17. Dodge (36.7)
  18. Buick (35.7)
  19. Hyundai (34.5)
  20. Volkswagen (31.2)
  21. Chrysler (31.2)
  22. Ferrari (28.9)
  23. Porsche (24.1)
  24. Scion (22.9)
  25. Lincoln (22.9)
  26. Kia (22.8)
  27. Jaguar (16.4)
  28. Mazda (16.1)
  29. Infiniti (15.8)
  30. Jeep (11.6)
  31. Suzuki (11.1)
  32. Mercury (10.1)
  33. Land Rover (8.3)
  34. Mitsubishi (7.2)
  35. Mini (7.2)
  36. Fiat (6.7)
  37. Saab (5.3)
By Kelsey Mays | January 24, 2012 | Comments (17)



Im not sure I understand why CR (or anyone) really finds this significant. Are they showing that people are slowly realizing that we have parity in the auto industry? If so, that would be bad for CR and their level of importance.

Fix it again

Toyota deserves its top ranking. This list is very significant.


This list sucks. And it isn't significant, just like CR.


But where did they get the participants?
In a retirement community in Florida, perceptions may be based on outdated opinions, while affluent family neighborhoods may perceive image advertising as positive for a brand. Again, it's completely different for what 20-year-olds feel.
I doubt any respondants could tell you what a brands cumulative "crash test data" looks like. [ a factor the article above mentions]
So I will yawn, and move on.


These comments remind me of the statement, 8 out of 5 Americans don't believe in statistics.

Yes, it is a perception survey. And what it reports is a shift in the population's perception of auto brands as compared to four previous surveys that elicited the same type of information.

Consumer Reports does other kinds of surveys, too, like asking owners of 1-, 2-, 3-, (and so on) year-old cars to report on the repair and problem experiences they've had with their vehicles. J. D. Power and Associates (see their website) does the same and not just in the automotive area.

To say that the list sucks is to say that you disagree with it? Or to say that it is a bad - irrelevant - list in your opinion? If the sampling is scientifically accurate (and there are ways to analyze that), then the list doesn't suck so much as the opinions of the population suck. Is that what you're saying?

More likely, "somebody" just missed the (possibly narrow) point of the article they were reading and trying to comprehend.

DeBinder Dundett

What matters more is the annual real-world sales data.

It just so happens that the Toyota Camry and the Ford F150 are the best sellers in their respective segments, with Honda and Nissan trailing.

Looking at it from that angle, CR's survey could be accurate and therefore it may matter to the auto manufacturers to see where they rank in the public's perception.

How people answer a survey may affect how they spend their money when they put their money where their mouth is.

Not too whoopee if you're on the list of the ten worst brands, eh?


how can you possibly explain the position of Smart? Probably one of the worse cars ever made and I just don't see how it could such a well known and respected (?) car. Any ideas?


the survey is answering a question no one asked and we have no idea WHO they surveyed to get these results. One thing CR isnt ever going to discuss is what customers are BUYING. They continue to rate Americna cars below their foreign counterparts in road test scores and relibility but American automakers gained share- along with Hyundai and VW last year. The vaunted Japanese brands lost share and have been somewhat stagnant in that regard for a while now. The sales trends prove that perceptions are changing in spite of CR's desire to convince everyone that buying anything that isnt Japanese is somewhat of a risk.


I just feel that the responders are going to provide their input based on their own, narrow-minded experiences. But, having said that perception is more important than actuality.



Nice of you to assume that the thousands of respondents to the CR survey are all narrow-minded. And I think it is "perception is reality" because most of our(both narrow minded and broad minded) decisions are based on what we perceive to be true whether it is or not. That is why perception surveys are important to manufacturers.

What gets me is the hate for CR??? Just because you may or may not agree with the results doesn't automatcially make the survey inaccurate. Especially when one has no idea as to how it was conducted.


Well, let me better explain. A positive response is based on whether a respondent could name a given brand. By its design, the survey requires a narrow-minded response from the of participants. What are the chances of someone who responded owning every brand of manufacturer in recent history, therefore allowing them to give something other than a narrow-minded response? How can one give an "educated" response on the quality of, say, a Volkswagon if one has never owned a Volkswagon?

Perception is reality to a manufacturer insomuch as their sales will reflect the perception of the quality of their vehicle, not the actual quality of their vehicle relative to other manufacturers and based on reliability hitory. That was my original point.

As far as CR goes, I barely glanced at the results. I don't really care about them; I just think the survey is useless.


Sorry, "Volkswagen."


When you ask for someone's perception you are not asking for first hand experience. You can have perceptions based on what you read, hear, see and possibly experience through riding in a rental or in someones else's car. Hence, you don't have to have an educated opinion. CR never said they were measuring actual quality....just consumers perception of it.

You may feel it is worthless but companies pay big bucks to measure consumers perception of their products and for methods to improve that perception. Products can get better but it often takes years of that better quality before the consumer's perception of it changes. That is why this leveling of quality perception is so important to the carmakers.


You've made your point. I agree.


IMO People don't like CR when it doesn't agree with their opinions.

I'm a subscriber and I find their quality, reliability, and objective data to be top notch, better than any of the auto mags. I take their subjective reviews lightly, but I don't buy a car without reviewing their reliability data, real world mpg, etc.


I dont like CR regardless of their agreement or disagreement with my opinions on certain cars. Their testing methods and scoring are ambiguous and their "reliability" data collection and presentation is seriously flawed.

Troy S.

One third of Ford's sales was to fleets...45% of Focus sales was Fleet. It seems as if this info certainly says alot about Ford's brand perception.


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