Consumer brand perception, more than reality, key to predicting vehicle sales


vehicle salesConsumer brand perception is everything.

Without getting into an existential debate about it, perception is at least someone’s version of reality. That can be a good thing – or a bad thing – depending on whether your brand comes out ahead.

A good example of this is a TrueCar/ALG “Brand Perception of Quality” survey of 30,000 recent car buyers, who were asked to rank various mainstream brands on a scale of 0 to 100. Perhaps it would come as no surprise that Japanese automakers Honda and Toyota are perceived to have the highest-quality vehicles, with 64.9 and 63.3 index points, respectively, in the brand perception survey.

(The survey accounts for the tendency of brand owners to rate that brand considerably higher.)

Volkswagen (58.8), Subaru (57.5) and GMC (57.5) round out the Top 5 brands in the survey, with GMC, manufactured by General Motors, the highest-rated American brand. But GM brands Buick (56.8) and Chevrolet (54.4) also rank in the Top 10 at seventh and 10th, respectively.

That seems especially good for the dozen brands – which also included Ford (57 points), Nissan (56), Mazda (55.7), Jeep (54.2) and Hyundai (53.7) – that finished above the survey average of 53.4 points.

Not so much for those brands that finished below average in quality perception.

“There are several measures of vehicle quality in the marketplace, measuring everything from long-term durability to fit and finish,” said ALG on its blog.  “However, when it comes to forecasting vehicle value for a brand, the data shows that perception, more so than reality, is a much better predictor.”

Among other findings of the ALG perception survey:

  • Jeep’s quality perception among Millennials pops into the top three behind Honda and Toyota. The Jeep brand has continued to foster an image of authenticity and ruggedness that aligns well with that generation’s values, creating very positive quality associations with the brand.
  • Consumers with high school educations see domestic brands like GMC, Chevrolet, Buick and Ford very high compared with those who have some higher education. In fact, the former group puts all three GM brands above Toyota, with GMC above Honda as well.
  • Mercedes-Benz (70.2 index points) led Lexus (69.4), BMW (68.7) and Porsche (68.1) among luxury brands, with Audi (65.9), Maserati (64.8), Infiniti (64.7) and Acura (64) also finishing above the luxury average of 63.1 points. Seven brands finished below the luxury average.

Still, there is reason for hope among trailing brands, according to ALG:

“The gap between the top tier and the rest of the field has narrowed … and buyers are clearly getting the message that overall quality levels have much more parity than ever before.”