Toyota, Honda and Ford rank as the best brands in U.S. consumers minds, an annual Consumer Reports survey found.
Toyota finished first for the third consecutive year of the study, which involved randomly questioning more than 1,700 U.S. adults in early December. After conducting the survey, authors account for variations in brand recognition before ranking the brands.
Despite the public's perception, Toyota underperformed the market in December. U.S. light-vehicle sales declined 35.6 percent, but Toyota lost 36.7 percent compared with December 2007.
Toyota also placed No. 1 and Honda No. 2 in consumers perceptions of quality and environmental friendliness. And Honda won first place in value, with Toyota finishing second.
Ford, Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz filled out the rest of the surveys top five brands overall. Mercedes finished in the top five for design and Cadillac for technology. And both brands made the top five for quality.
But Mercedes ranked 27th and Cadillac 31st among the 34 brands Consumer Reports studied in its 2008 reliability survey.
Consumers perceive these brands as among the best because of their design, prestige and marketing, said Jeff Bartlett, Consumer Reports deputy online automotive editor.
Wonderful first impression
Ultimately, these cars make a wonderful first impression, not only on car shoppers, but also in the media, he said. There are a lot of positive road tests on these vehicles that ultimately dont hold up well over time.
Suzuki, Mazda, Saab and Hummer received the lowest scores from consumers ranking the best brands.
Safety ranked first as the most important quality consumers look for in buying a new vehicle. Volvo leads the category in consumers minds, with 71 percent saying it is the safest brand. Ford finished second, receiving votes from 19 percent of consumers.
Quality, value, performance, environmental friendliness, design and technology followed safety in importance for consumers when car shopping.
But 48 percent of those surveyed said they were delaying future car purchases. Having a car in good shape was the top reason for putting off a purchase, followed by vehicles being too costly and worries about the economy.
Delayed purchasing has already contributed to automakers reports of 13.2 million U.S. light-vehicle sales in 2008 -- the worst sales year since 1992. And 2008 closed with a sales rate of 10.4 million units, well below the 12.5 million vehicles scrapped in the U.S. annually because of accidents or malfunction.
The average car ownership time may continue to rise, Bartlett said.
That might put the average length of ownership just beyond what is currently an average vehicle generation, he said. If theres a vehicle generation every four or five years, that might start to be a little too quick, which may help the manufacturer.
Economic factors also caused survey respondents to place less emphasis on performance and styling than in the studys two-year past, Bartlett said.
People are very simply shifting from being want- and desire-driven to being more need-driven, he said. People are shopping more with their wallets than with their hearts.