Toyota Motor Corp., faltering from recalls, has fallen into a statistical tie with Ford Motor Co. for tops in U.S. consumer brand perception, influential magazine Consumer Reports said Wednesday.
Toyota retained the top spot by a slim margin over Ford in the Consumer Reports 2011 survey that was conducted last month. Honda Motor Co placed third and Chevrolet fourth.
The Ford brand gained some ground in the latest survey and topped Toyota in the areas that consumers have said matter to them the most: safety, quality and value, the magazine said.
Ford, which supplanted Toyota as the No. 2 selling automaker in the United States in 2010 behind General Motors, would have led the survey overall if not for a large Toyota lead in the "green" category, Consumer Reports said.
Consumers have put less focus on "environmentally friendly" in the survey than in the past as they have come to expect better fuel economy and may be unwilling to pay more for improvements, according to Consumer Reports.
Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley said the automaker is closing a gap between the quality of its vehicles and the public perception of the brand.
"Ford has not only been performing well in 'real' quality measures, long-term durability and initial quality, but is scoring higher on the more subjective aspect of quality: perception," Kinley said.
Toyota said it stands behind its performance in warranty claims, long-term durability, resale value and buyer loyalty. Consumer Reports rated 17 Toyota vehicles "most reliable" in its 2010 reliability survey, most of any automaker, it said.
"We expect that some public perception of Toyota's long-standing reputation for quality and reliability might be influenced in the short term," Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said. "Other indicators are showing that we've turned the page and we anticipate regaining leadership in this very important and influential survey in the very near future."
Consumer Reports said the brand perception survey mirrors results from the nonprofit's most recent vehicle reliability study that ranked Toyota sixth — down from third the prior year and below Honda and Ford.
The improved performance and reliability of Ford vehicles, coupled with the recalls by Toyota that have totaled 11 million in the United States over the past year, led to the sharp swing over the past two years in the surveys, Consumer Reports said.
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