U.S. Car Buyers Seeing Less Difference Between Car Brands

Not so long ago, saying the name of any of the top car brands — Toyota, Chevy, Ford, Honda, etc — conjured up very distinct associated images and preconceptions, especially when compared to the smaller and newer brands on the market. But it looks like that line between champs and challengers is blurring as consumers re-think what they prize in an automobile.

Our downshifting, drifting gear-head cohorts at Consumer Reports have just released the results of their 2012 Car-Brand Perception Survey, which demonstrates a closing of the gap between traditional top auto brands and perennial also-rans.

“Dramatic events in the automotive industry seem to be affecting how consumers view auto brands,” explains CR’s Jeff Bartlett. “Erratic gasoline prices and a struggling economy have pushed consumers to prize low operating costs and good reliability,”

While Toyota maintained its position on the top of the brand perception pile, it dropped a total of 17 points from the 2011 survey. This is in line with drops of more than 20 points from other top brands like Ford, Honda, and BMW.

Meanwhile, GM’s two biggest brands, Cadillac and Chevrolet, managed to eke out single-digit score improvements.

The Car-Brand Perception Survey combines results for seven categories: safety, quality, value, performance, environmentally friendly/green, design/style, and technology/innovation to come up with the total brand-perception score.

And while a whopping 37 points separates top-scoring brand from #3 Honda, the middle of the list shows a cluster of brands with similar scores, with fewer than 30 points separating #6 Honda and #15 Nissan.

Bringing up the rear of the pack are mostly European brands like Saab, with a meager 5 points, and Fiat, Mini, and Mitsubishi all tying for next-to-lowest with only 7 points.

The entire report can be read over at ConsumerReports.org.

It should be While the scores reflect a brand’s image in consumers’ minds, they do not reflect the actual qualities of any brand’s vehicles, or results from Consumer Reports testing.