Car Brand Perception Survey shows Tesla is on the rise

February 7, 2014 12:00 AM

There's a difference between perception and reality. So while some cars may be less prone to requiring auto repair or be more fuel-efficient, those aren't always necessarily the vehicles that stick out in the minds of consumers. Certain brands and models seem to make a strong impression on buyers, but those opinions can change. The latest Consumer Reports' Car Brand Perception Survey sought to investigate buyers' perceptions of different brands, and the findings were somewhat surprising.

Changing opinions
The survey asked 1,764 randomly selected car owners to rank seven aspects in relation to their buying decisions: design and style, performance, quality, safety, technology and innovation, value and, last but not least, fuel economy. They then named which brand they considered a leader in each of those categories, and the results were used to calculate which automakers were the favorites.

For years, Toyota, Ford, Honda and Chevrolet have been held in the highest regard by consumers - and interestingly, the top six brands finished in the same rank order in 2013 as they did in 2012. However, there's a new brand that is making its way into the spotlight: Tesla. A recent article in the Detroit Free Press predicted that America's big three automakers could soon become four with Tesla's rise in popularity. Considering Consumer Reports' findings, this is not entirely unlikely.

In fact, Tesla made the top 10 in overall brand perception and jumped from a 42-point score to 55 points, which is no easy feat for a small manufacturer. Tesla was also ranked the highest in terms of performance, styling and technology, which makes sense with the release of its new acclaimed Model S sedan. The electric car company took sixth place in the technology/innovation aspect. More impressive is the fact that Tesla snagged the No. 3 slot for being environmentally friendly/green, thus nudging Honda down to No. 4. Most importantly, though, Tesla is now the fifth best-perceived brand among American car owners, which is a big jump from 11th last year.

A bright future
With Elon Musk's aim to build an affordable electric sedan, Tesla could be poised for significant growth. According to the Free Press, Model S chief engineer Jerome Guillen, Tesla's vice president of worldwide sales and service, estimates that the electric car will go into production in just three years.

"Tesla already has the base of technological understanding of the car and its performance and the way it works at levels no one else has captured for their cars," said Theodore O'Neill, an analyst for Connecticut-based Litchfield Hills Research, as quoted by the Free Press.

Consumer Reports noted that perception is largely influenced by media, marketing and even word of mouth. So even if the quality, efficiency or attractiveness of a brand's cars improves in reality, it can take some time for consumers' opinions to reflect these changes. Fortunately for Tesla, it seems that positive reviews, reports, awards and news headlines about the Model S has had a rapid impact on the brand's reputation. Even in the face of a charger recall and some post-crash fires, the automaker's public image has not been marred.

Already, Tesla may be seeing the positive effects of its elevated brand perception. The Wall Street Journal reported that Tesla Motors Inc.'s stock continues to rise. Additionally, the news outlet noted that used Tesla Model S sedans could be even more expensive than their new counterparts, which is highly unusual. According to the source, reported that the brand delivered 6,900 cars in its fourth quarter last year, which is 20 percent higher than its initial predictions. Tesla has also now sold cars in all 50 U.S. states, and officially launched sales in China.

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