According to an article released by Consumer Reports today, Ford Motor Co. is now tied with Toyota as the car manufacturer with the best public image, according to a survey of the magazine’s subscribers. The American car company gained 35 percentage points in the last two years as Toyota, a company that has been plagued by recalls and safety issues, has tumbled 46 points. The article credits Ford’s commitment to “the factors that matter most to car shoppers: Safety, quality, and value” as the reason for the marked improvement in their overall brand perception.
This brand perception report comes just behind the news that most automakers saw a rebound in sales in 2010 after suffering through difficult years in 2008 and 2009. All three major U.S. automakers saw sales growth: Chrysler sold 1.1 million vehicles and Ford sold nearly 2 million; GM reported 16-percent increase in December. In fact, there was only one major automaker to report a decline in sales in 2010.
Yep, you guessed it. Toyota.
This is not to imply that Toyota is in the toilet or is on the verge of going belly-up. Far from it, in fact. The car-maker still touts the top-selling car in America with its Camry sedan, and Lexus, its luxury line, “will be the best-selling luxury brand in the industry for the 11th consecutive year,” according to a recent report appearing in the Automotive News. Does this mean that the company can rest on its laurels and expect their image to improve on its own?
Of course not. Instead, Toyota will have to start an aggressive public-relations campaign to right the sails and steer their ship away from the troubled waters of 2010. Toyota should first reach out to its key business partners in its fleet vehicle division—the area where they saw the greatest losses—and convince them of Toyota’s commitment to safety, quality, and value, the three cornerstones of positive brand perception. As part of that campaign to regain fleet vehicle sales, Toyota will most likely use a promotional product of some kind to repair customer perception of their brand.
What items might they use? According to the latest Impressions Study by the Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI), Promotional Automotive Items would be a good choice for Toyota. For one, such products are already in line with their industry, so Toyota can be certain that the products will at least be appreciated if not used. Secondly, customized automotive accessories resonate especially well with recipients because of their usefulness. Of those polled in ASI’s Impression Study, 50% had a more favorable view of the company after receiving a Custom Automotive Accessory or a Personalized Ice Scraper than they did prior to receiving the item. Furthermore, 50% of respondents also indicated that they did business with the company after receiving the product.
Toyota has a long road in front of them (no pun intended), but they can start undoing the damage done by 2009’s and 2010’s safety recalls by reaching out to past customers and top prospects and offering a corporate gift of appreciation. Once they can regain their fleet vehicle sales, the company will be on surer footing. In the meantime, I want to offer my kudos to Ford for shedding the stigma that American cars are not as safe or well0made as foreign cars. Here’s hoping both Toyota and Ford have enjoy a year even more prosperous than the last.
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