A Consumer Reports survey finds the intense publicity surrounding Toyota's recent recalls having a pronounced effect on the company's image among its current customers.
In a recent follow-up to the Consumer Reports 2010 Car Brand Perception Survey, among consumers who drive a Toyota regularly, 60 percent said they would most likely purchase a Toyota the next time they are in the market for a new car. That's down 10 percentage points from the December 2009 survey. As a result, Toyota slipped behind Honda, while loyalty for Chevrolet and Ford changed little among owners. The full report is available online.
To provide a snapshot of how public perceptions of Toyota are shifting in light of its cascading safety recalls, the Consumer Reports National Research Center repeated part of the 2010 Car Brand Perception Survey. For this follow up, a random, nationwide telephone survey was conducted over February 4-8 of 1,832 adults who said that their household owns a vehicle.
Despite the attention Toyota has received due to safety concerns, the overall impact on the brand integrity in the eyes of the consumer was less than one may have anticipated, though admittedly this is a developing situation. Among the top brands, purchase intent among all consumers changed by a notable amount between the two surveys for only one brand; Toyota registered a decline of nearly 4 percentage points. The change was similar between genders, but purchase intent declined more among respondents aged 18 to 44 years old than those aged 45 and over.
Even with this modest decline, Toyota purchase intent among all respondents remains greater than all brands except Ford (17 percent) and Chevrolet (14 percent).
While brand loyalty among current owners has declined, it remains greater than other popular makes, including Chevrolet (52 percent), Ford (51 percent), and Dodge (28 percent). Notably, Dodge owners are less likely to purchase another vehicle from that brand than in December, at 28 percent versus 32 percent.
Toyota entered its current crisis in a position of strength. It has led past Brand Perception Surveys by a significant margin, and in the latest full survey in December, at 196 points, it held a significant score advantage with over its closest competitor, Ford, at 141 points. The scores reflect consumers' total perception level of a brand across seven categories: Safety, quality, value, performance, design/style, technology/innovation, and environmentally friendly/green.
In ranking those factors, respondents considered Safety to be the most important, up slightly from the previous year. Quality ranked second. These attributes have historically been associated with Toyota, exposing vulnerability as these traits are drawn into question as the automaker manages its crisis.