Toyota Appears Near Top of Both Brand Perception Survey and ‘Most Hated Company’ List

David Goodspeed writes amazing articles about cars and the automotive industry for Gear Diary, and I love reading them. Personally I am fairly utilitarian in my auto pursuits, but my statistician avocation makes me sit up and take notice when what looks like inherently contradictory data comes along.

In this case it is Toyota and their public image.

First off they find themselves along BP, airlines and others on the ’15 most hated companies’ list. Toyota had what could be described as a ‘rough’ 2010 in terms of public relations, to the point where the former leader of product quality had to recall more than 10 million cars, and fueled more public antipathy by challenging and blame-shifting the issues back onto consumers.

Here are some details:

Toyota and BP have joined a familiar cast of airlines, banks and telecoms providers as the most loathed companies in the United States, according to a survey published Thursday.

The list of 15 “most hated American companies of 2010”—compiled by website 24/7 Wall St.—is dominated by technology firms, which rank poorly in consumer and employee polls, stock-market performance and press coverage last year.

AT&T is on the list for having patchy service, Dell for its shabby electronic store and fragile laptops, and satellite provider Dish Network for having a third of its customers describe its service as poor. Dish Network’s competitor DirecTV was also listed for perceived gouging through automatic contract extensions and a $480 cancellation fee.

Nokia, the world’s biggest mobile-phone company, saw its star fade thanks to customer complaints and a poor ranking for design. But tech firms are not consumers’ only source of angst. McDonald’s, described by the authors as “poster child for unhealthy food in America,” is “among the most savagely criticized firms,” earning it an appearance on the list.

A few firms feature on the list for obvious reasons. Toyota, once the gold star of car quality, made the list thanks to the recall of 10 million vehicles worldwide over safety concerns. BP’s reputation was battered by the massive Gulf Coast oil spill, which saw its former boss, Tony Hayward, publicly berated for claiming he wanted his life back at the height of the crisis.

Unsurprisingly, financial institutions Citigroup and Bank of America, still reviled for asking taxpayers for a bailout after helping plunge the global economy into recession, also make an appearance.

The ranking comes just weeks after U.S. airports were paralyzed by heavy snow, but even in sunny times, American Airlines is said to have dreadful customer service and a poor on-time departure track record. Competitor United Airlines was listed after appearing at the bottom of the American Customer Satisfaction Index and an employee satisfaction rating of 2.1 out of five.

So Toyota has an abysmal 2010 and gets named among the worst companies of the year. Not really surprising … until I read the second piece of news! Because at the same time as being pounded in one survey, they were touted in another!

Toyota has issued reports showing that they are focused on sorting out root cause and ensuring the overall quality of their products. And apparently that is doing some good with some people. Here is a snippet:

Ford and Toyota are in a statistical dead heat for first place in Consumer Reports’ 2011 Car Brand Perception Survey. The survey results released Wednesday come one day after the influential consumer ratings magazine delivered a blistering review of Ford’s new touchscreen control system, concluding it was distracting.

But Wednesday, the magazine said its consumer survey found that, overall, “Ford excels in the factors that consumers say matter most: safety, quality and value.” Also, Ford’s scores have been rising, while Toyota’s have been falling.

In a two-year period, Ford’s brand perception score has increased by 35 points, while Toyota’s score plummeted by 46 points. In the most recent survey, Toyota’s total score was 147, while Ford’s total score was 144.

The scores in the survey reflect how consumers perceive each brand in seven categories: safety, quality, value, performance, design and style, technology and innovation, and environmentally friendly or green. The study is based on a nationwide telephone survey of 1,721 adults conducted Dec. 2 to 6 who own at least one car.

On Tuesday, Consumer Reports said it decided against recommending two Ford vehicles—the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossovers—because Ford’s new touchscreen system is complicated and can create a distraction for drivers. That decision was based on consumer surveys and Consumer Reports’ own road and performance tests.

MyFord Touch replaces traditional buttons and knobs with a five-way controller on the steering wheel and a touchscreen on the center stack that operates the radio, climate control and navigation and voice commands. Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s group vice president of global product development, said Tuesday that MyFord Touch is designed to eliminate driver distraction.

In an era where a bad reputation can spread virally and ruin a company overnight, it is amazing that Toyota has managed to maintain their reputation for high quality! Ford has fought for theirs, as I remember growing up with them looked at as neither high quality nor innovative. In recent years they have become not just the best regarded American brand, but right at the top of the heap with Honda and Toyota. Yet I wonder if they could weather the same storm as Toyota … or if most companies could!

What companies have you seen simultaneously revered and reviled for the same basic thing? I can’t think of many – I mean, Apple is loved and hated, but really for different things. And what thoughts do you have about Toyota? My wife says she will never buy something of theirs after knowing someone who had issues and not being thrilled with the company’s response … do you share that or is this all ancient history for you?

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