Brand perceptions may not be of as much concern to car buyers as they once were, judging from the disparate vehicles on the latest quarterly ranking of the top 10 cars and trucks for which ForbesAutos.com users request price quotes.
“I think what the list shows is that with Lincoln, Ford, Chevy, BMW, Mercedes, Toyota — and this is true for the entire industry — it’s about the product,” says Alexander Edwards, president of the automotive group at the research firm Strategic Vision. Looking at the data from the fourth quarter of 2006 — from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31 — he concludes that the reputation of a brand, weak or strong, isn’t the primary factor swaying car shoppers. In other words, a well-built and well-executed car or truck will find its audience in today’s market.
“Vehicles displaying any means of fuel economy are becoming more popular,” says Neal Oddes, director of product research at J.D. Power and Associates. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid ranks fourth on the list and the recently released Toyota Camry Hybrid placed ninth. Oddes points out that the full-size Chevrolet Tahoe SUV (in eighth place) now features cylinder displacement (where part of the engine shuts down to save fuel while cruising or coasting) to boost fuel economy over that of previous models.
The BMW 3 Series took first place in our latest quarterly top 10 list, which is determined by the number of dealer price-quote requests submitted by ForbesAutos.com users through the Web site. The data includes multiple model years, because dealers may stock and sell as new more than one model year of a given vehicle at any given time.
The Lincoln MKZ made the largest move of any of the top 10 vehicles, climbing from 19th place in the third quarter to a tie for No. 2.
While the MKZ is only slightly different than the previous year’s Zephyr, a big advertising push may account for the interest in this updated model. Lincoln launched a new “Dreams” marketing campaign during the second half of 2006. “MKZ played significantly in that plan,” says Lincoln spokesman Alan Hall.
The Ford Mustang dropped the most places of any vehicle currently in the top 10. It plummeted from first place in the third quarter 2006 to the 10th spot in the fourth quarter. "If I were Ford, I wouldn’t worry too much about that," Strategic Vision’s Edwards says. That’s because the Mustang is no longer a buzzed-about, brand-new release and its drop in the ranking doesn’t represent a significant statistical change in the raw data.
The Toyota Highlander Hybrid (fourth place, up from a tie for 15th), and the Toyota FJ Cruiser (tied for second, up from 11th) were the other biggest movers on the list. “The FJ Cruiser has been gaining in popularity ever since it came out,” Oddes says.
One reason is its distinctive styling. “Product design — exterior styling — always can generate interest,” Edwards says.