2011 was a tough year for Asian automakers. True, their vehicles have fared well in various rankings, like Consumer Reports' recent list of "Top Picks". But between the March 11 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the flooding in Thailand, and the strong yen, many companies along the Pacific rim had a tough time getting cars to market last year, much less turning a profit.
Honda had the added burden of releasing a less-than-stellar update to its highly popular Civic. In fact, the refreshed ride was so widely panned, that Honda has fast-tracked a fix that should be in place by fall.
But despite such troubles, Honda has managed to regain its footing among American consumers. That's according to a new article published by YouGov.
YouGov is a marketing firm that tracks customer perception on a wide range of brands. It scores those companies according to their BrandIndex scores, which range from -100 (very negative) to 0 (neutral) to 100 (very positive).
For automakers, YouGov regularly asks its pool of 1.5 million respondents about their feelings on each brand's quality, value, and reputation, as well as their general impression of a brand and their willingness to recommend it to a friend.
Honda has seen ups and downs on the BrandIndex scale over the past few years, ranging from a high of 51 in March 2009 to a low of 33 in June 2010. While Honda didn't encounter a recall fiasco like the one that swamped Toyota in 2010 (more on that in a minute), it has suffered from more general issues related to marketing and public awareness. Still, even a score of 33 leaves it in very positive territory and is enough to make some less-fortunate automakers jealous.
Today, Honda has drifted slightly upward, sitting at 39, which is at the top of the mid-market auto sector. (The average score for automakers in that sector is 19.)
Just below Honda, we find Ford, which rests at a 34 BrandIndex score. Ford's journey has been much more dramatic than Honda, the company having suffered through the Detroit crisis of 2008 and 2009. Even though Ford didn't follow in the footsteps of Chrysler and General Motors in accepting controversial low-interest loans from the feds, consumers seemed confused about Ford's situation. In the public's eyes, Ford was guilty by association.
In March 2009, Ford's BrandIndex score stood at 19. Once consumers began to understand that Ford didn't go through a restructuring, that score began to rise -- boosted, of course, by the introduction of hot, exciting models like the Fiesta and the revamped Ford Focus. Today, Ford's score rests at a sound 34.
To say that Toyota has had a long row to hoe would be an understatement. The massive recall affecting Toyota and Lexus vehicles that began in late 2009 caused Toyota's brand perception to plummet from a crest of 47 in January 2010 all the way down to 2 just four months later.
Since then, Toyota has staged a relentless comeback assault. In that, it's been helped by its increasingly popular Prius -- which, ironically, sat at the center of the recall storm and has now been expanded to a full family of vehicles. In January, Toyota hit 40 on the BrandIndex rankings, and although it's settled back to a 32, we expect to see that score rise again once spring's glut of auto ads hit the airwaves.