Among mainstream brands, consumers still rate Honda and Toyota highest in quality—whether that is or isn't the case on actual quality surveys. But Ford is quickly gaining ground. That's according to the latest Perceived Quality Study (PQS), from residual values expert Automotive Leasing Guide (ALG).
Perceived quality sometimes fails to mirror actual quality. Here, there's no better example than Volkswagen, which ALG says has maintained a strong perceived level of quality even though the brand has placed low in actual metrics for quality.
"Volkswagen’s emotionally appealing designs have helped strengthen perceptions of its overall brand and lift VW into third place,” said ALG general manager James Clark, in a release accompanying the results. ALG points to the recently launched Volkswagen Tiguan and CC as image-boosters.
Honda's emphasis on engines and engineering might pay off in dividends with respect to perceived quality. ALG observes out that if a consumer thinks that a brand has reliable engines, they will rate other vehicle characteristics high as well. Both Honda and Toyota "consistently score high in perceived quality, actual quality, and residual values because they have maintained a long history of quality with specific focus on durable and reliable powertrains."
Another reason ALG attributes to the continued lofty perceptions of Toyota and Honda are consistent lifecycle management—meaning that major redesigns occur at regular intervals (typically five years) with enhancements in between. Minimized incentives and fleet sales have also helped boost residual value and bolster perceptions.
2010 Ford FlexEnlarge Photo
The 2010 Ford Taurus SHO uses the new 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, which pairs gasoline direct injection with twin turbochargers to generate an estimated 365 horsepower.Enlarge Photo
Over the past year, perhaps because of the failure of GM and Chrysler, there have been some pronounced changes in perceived quality. Ford has surged, with Ford Cars showing a 10.1 percent year-over-year boost in the PQS. ALG attributes the successful launches of the 2010 Ford F-150 and 2010 Ford Flex, plus the 2010 Taurus and the hype around the 2011 Ford Fiesta.
Hyundai also did well, rising 5.5 percent in the study versus a year ago, demonstrating that more shoppers perceive the once no-frills brand in a very positive way. ALG attributes the Hyundai Assurance Program and its strong performance in the Cash for Clunkers program, along with the new Genesis Coupe and sedan.
The Chrysler brand ranked at the bottom, with an 11.9-percent drop perceived quality. ALG says that some refreshed products like the redesigned 2011 Chrysler 300 might help bridge the gap. "However, the uncertainty about the brand's future and the significant time lag between today and the arrival of new products are obvious concerns for Chrysler.
Saturn, Pontiac, and Chevrolet were also down significantly in perceived quality, likely due to GM's bankruptcy filing this year rather than any difference in real quality.
The results of this survey are important, as perceived quality is one of many factors used in assessing a vehicle's residual value, which affects resale value and predicts resale value.
The twice-yearly survey was conducted by Zogby International and based on between 3,000 and 4,000 responses.