Plenty of surveys measure attitudes toward the auto industry. Some determine how much motorists like their vehicles, some focus on the dealership experience, and others zero in on areas like auto insurance.
Marketing firm YouGov measures something a little more elusive: buzz. Every weekday, YouGov speaks to 5,000 people across the U.S., asking them to share what they've heard about particular brands. YouGov's exact question is, "If you've heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word of mouth, was it positive or negative?" Respondents are then asked to rate the sentiment of what they've heard on a scale of -100 (extremely negative) to +100 (extremely positive), with zero being neutral.
YouGov has just compiled scores from its 2012 auto brand surveys -- over 1 million of them -- and the results are interesting:
- For a second year in a row, Ford generated more positive buzz than any other automaker. However, the company's average score of 32.1 is a few notches lower than 2011's 35.4. (Maybe all that business about hybrid fuel economy is having an unwanted effect.)
- Coming in at #2 is Honda, which scored an average of 21.2 points. That's roughly on par with 2011, when the brand scored 21.6.
- Toyota is the #3 winner, with an average score of 20.5. That's up dramatically from the 14 points that Toyota scored in 2011, when headlines about the company's 2010 recalls were still fresh in consumers' minds.
- Volkswagen comes in at #4 for a second year. Its score of 16.9 is one point higher than 2011.
- And rounding out the top five, we find BMW at 15.8, nearly in lockstep with 2011's score of 15.6.
Missing from the list: Chevrolet, which had taken the #3 spot in 2011 with a score of 16.1.
Other brands showed marked improvement, even though they didn't crack YouGov's top five. Chrysler's score of 7.9 was up 2.7 points from 2011, and its sister, Dodge, was up 1.2 points to 10.2. Kia also gained a little ground, with an average score of 9.3 -- 1.3 points above 2011.
YouGov's overall rankings are always good to know, but we find the ups and downs in buzz to be more telling. For example, even though Toyota came in at #2 in YouGov's final tally, it was clearly the big buzz winner for the year. And as we now know, Toyota also bested competitors General Motors and Volkswagen in global auto sales for 2012. Coincidence?