Two weeks ago, everyone was talking about a Jeep Cherokee that was hacked via its Uconnect telematics system. After the story broke, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles hardened its network to minimize the danger to owners, and it recalled 1.4 million vehicles to update their software and foil hackers in the future.
(Side note: Yesterday, we learned that FCA knew about the security hole for a year and a half but didn't fix it because the company didn't consider the Uconnect vulnerability a security problem. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration disagreed.)
You might think that after such a high-profile story, shoppers would dial down their enthusiasm for Jeep. But according to market research firm YouGov, that doesn't seem to be the case -- though that may change as more consumers weigh in. The public's opinion of Chrysler, on the other hand, has been in trouble for some time.
As you can see from YouGov's chart above (which unfortunately doesn't represent data from the past two weeks), consumers have had a much higher opinion of Jeep than Chrysler for at least the past two years. In fact, the only time that Jeep slipped below its fellow brand in terms of customer perception came in the summer of 2013, when Chrysler took the highly unusual step of refusing NHTSA's request for a recall of older Jeep Grand Cherokee and Liberty models, many of which had caught fire after being rear-ended.
It was a losing move for Chrysler: public opinion of Jeep hit a four-year low, and the automaker eventually had to give in and repair the affected vehicles.
By the end of the year, though, Jeep had recovered, and since that time, public opinion of the brand has been as good as or better than other domestic marques. (Though it's worth noting, when it comes to sales, Jeep doesn't earn the same consideration from shoppers that other U.S. brands do.)
Chrysler, however, is still facing struggles. Part of the problem stems from the fact that Chrysler the company and Chrysler the brand are indistinguishable to many people, and Chrysler the company has been having its share of troubles with NHTSA lately. Even though the company is technically named Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, many media outlets still refer to it as Chrysler, which dings perception of Chrysler the car brand. For that and other reasons, Chrysler the car brand is now viewed more negatively than at any time in the last 10 months.
As news of the Jeep hacking spreads, however, this could change You'll note that toward the end YouGov's chart on buzz -- which reflects what consumers hear about particular brands from friends, family, and the media -- both Chrysler and Jeep have fallen toward the zero mark. Zero is the neutral dividing line between positive and negative perception.
Whether that dip is the result of ongoing coverage of the penalties that FCA has been ordered to pay NHTSA and the oversight to which it's being subjected, or whether it reflects the public's early reaction to the hacking remains to be seen. However, based on previous trends, the public will probably be willing to cut Jeep more slack than Chrysler.
On the other hand, both Jeep and Chrysler may be helped by growing awareness of our cars' vulnerability to hackers. Just yesterday, we wrote about a flaw in OnStar's RemoteLink app that can give bad guys and gals control of a vehicle, and today, there are reports of a Tesla Model S being hacked at low speeds. The fact that hacking isn't just a Chrysler or Jeep problem could cause consumers to be more forgiving.
And the best news of all for all domestic car fans is that sales at FCA, Ford, and GM are booming. For many automakers, that's what really counts.