New Study Has Ford Overtaking Toyota in Quality Perception

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The situation just keeps getting stickier, so to speak. On the heels of its latest mass recall, a study released Wednesday reports Toyota fell to seventh place for 2010 models — from second place in 2009 — among 20 mainstream brands in perceived quality. Ford, meanwhile, moved from eighth place last year to sixth for 2010. The study ended on January 17, a week before the most recent Toyota recall, but began after the recall of 4.2 million cars over floormats.

Bandon, Ore.-based CNW Market Research conducted the study, which asked 150,000 new-car shoppers, on a 1-to-10 scale, how well they perceived the quality of cars from 36 brands. CNW has been conducting the study for more than a dozen years, with shoppers asked to opine regardless of whether they could afford the brand’s cars.Of the 20 non-luxury brands, Toyota and Honda have ranked first or second from the 1997 to the 2009 model years. But for the 2010 model year, Toyota’s perception dropped to seventh place, with an average score of 8.51 out of 10. In 2009, it was 8.97. 

Meanwhile, Ford — whose announcement Thursday of a profitable 2009 blew away analysts’ expectations — vaulted from 14th place as recently as the 2006 model year to sixth for 2010. Here’s how the 20 non-luxury brands stacked up: 1. Honda
2. Buick
3. Mazda
4. Volkswagen
5. Saturn
6. Ford
7. Toyota
8. Hyundai
9. Subaru
10. Chevrolet
11. Nissan
12. Mercury
13. Kia
14. Mitsubishi
15. Dodge
16. Jeep
17. Pontiac
18. Suzuki
19. Chrysler
20. Isuzu

“The problems really began with a small problem: The T100 ‘full size’ pickup was scary bad,” CNW President Art Spinella said in an email statement. “A variety of other recalls on vehicles such as Tundra and warranty issues such as the Multi-Function Display in the Prius added their own black marks. Consumer Reports’ halting a long-time practice of giving an automatic ‘pass’ on any new Toyota product was a major blow.
“The ‘Halt Sale’ directive to dealers impacts not only new vehicles but the used vehicles,” Spinella continued, referring to Toyota’s decision to halt sales of models encompassed by last week’s 2.3-million vehicle accelerator pedal recall.
CNW didn’t return our requests for additional comment, so we chatted with Erich Merkle, president of Autoconomy, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based consulting firm.
The recent recalls have affected consumer perception “to a certain extent,” Merkle said. But another underlying reason for Toyota’s perceptual slide, he said, is its competition — including Ford.
“I don’t know that Toyota’s quality has degraded as much as it means that the bar has just moved higher,” Merkle said. Indeed, the CNW survey shows brands like Mazda, Volkswagen and Ford having steady perceptual gains over the past few years. Toyota, meanwhile, hovered in the same range from 2007 to 2009 before sliding for 2010.
“If you look at things that GM has done, and what Ford has done, and now what Hyundai and Kia are doing, they really provide that look and feel of quality,” Merkle said. “You look at where interiors have gone, and I don’t think that Toyota interiors have gotten worse. In fact, I think they’ve gotten a little better. But you look at the interior of the new Ford Taurus, and it’s outstanding.”

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