Do You Really Care What Car You Drive?

January 25, 2012
Car lot

Car lot

Once upon a time, consumers were fiercely brand-loyal. Many of our parents and grandparents drove Fords or Chevys or Plymouths, and that's all they drove. But as we've seen over the past few years, brand loyalty is becoming a thing of the past -- a fact that's confirmed by new study from Consumer Reports

The Car-Brand Perception Survey scores auto brands in eight areas: safety, quality, value, performance, environmentally friendly/green, design/style, technology/innovation, and overall brand perception. The 2012 survey is based on data collected from 1,702 U.S. adults in households with at least one car.

The biggest finding of the 2012 Car-Brand Perception Survey is that today's consumers notice fewer differences between auto brands. In other words, the gap between "good" companies and "bad" companies (or "liked" and "disliked") is narrowing. Consumer Reports attributes this to the increasingly competitive auto market, as well as outside factors like Toyota's recent recall troubles and Volvo's purchase by Chinese automaker Geely, which forced people to think differently about otherwise stable brands. 

We think this also has something to do with the 24-hour news cycle, which offers us far more information about automakers than it once did. The more we know about those companies -- good and bad -- the more we realize that they share a number of similarities. It's a little like reading about the daily lives of movie stars or pro athletes: once you discover that they put on their pants one leg at a time just like you, the shine wears off a bit.

The results

The top-ranked brands in this year's Car-Brand Perception survey are:

Safety: Volvo (head and shoulders above #2, Ford)

Quality: A three-way tie between Toyota, Honda, and Ford 

Value: Ford, followed very closely by Toyota

Performance: BMW

Environmentally friend/green: Toyota

Design/style: Cadillac

Technology/innovation: Mercedes-Benz

In overall brand perception, Toyota landed at the top of the heap, followed at a respectable distance by Ford. Honda, Chevrolet, and Mercedes-Benz rounded out the top five.

The worst-perceived brand? No prizes for guessing Saab. Duking it out for the next-worst spot, we find Fiat, MINI, and Mitsubishi locked in a three-way tie. Land Rover landed only slightly higher.

If you have time, click over to Consumer Reports to see the full list of results. And if you're one of those folks who remains intensely brand-loyal, tell us which company gets all your attention and why. You can drop us an email, or leave a note in the comments below.

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